The U.S. has sent nearly $20 billion in first-world weaponry to Ukraine since its invasion by Russia. House Republicans, poised to take control of Congress in January, are now pressuring the Biden administration for greater accountability and transparency about these weapons transfers as well about other aid packages sent to the embattled Slavic nation.
The push for greater oversight comes after it was revealed that there have only been two in-person weapons inspections conducted by U.S. monitors since February.
Some accountability at last
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told CNN in early November that there "has to be accountability going forward."
Underlining his support for Ukraine, McCarthy said, "You always need, not a blank check, but [to] make sure the resources are going where it is needed. And make sure Congress, and the Senate, have the ability to debate it openly."
Another GOP lawmaker clarified to CNN, "McCarthy was not saying, 'We wouldn't spend money.' McCarthy was saying, 'We're gonna be accountable to the taxpayer for every dollar we spend.' ... A 'blank check' means that people get whatever they ask for. What we're saying is there's going to be some thought, there's going to be accountability."
The New York Post reported that Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, indicated that Republicans continue to support aid to Ukraine, but on the condition that it's clear where it's going and that there is accountability for how it's utilized.
"We have a voice now, and we're going to do this in an accountable way, with transparency to the American people," said McCaul. "These are American taxpayer dollars doing in."
Rep. Mike Turner, the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, indicated funding will no longer be included in "Democrat bills," whereby assistance for the Slavic nation is contingent upon Democrats getting what they want in the way of domestic funding for their pet projects.
"We don't need to pass $40 billion, large Democrat bills ... to send $8 billion to Ukraine," Turner told ABC's "This Week."
Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) suggested that oversight has been long been regarded as necessary for weapons shipments to countries far less corrupt than Ukraine. According to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine ranked 122nd out of 180 countries.
Waltz said, "With the volumes of goods that we're pushing, it's our responsibility to have third-party oversight. We do it all over the world."
On Nov. 17, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), and other Republican lawmakers held a press conference to discuss taxpayer funding to aid Ukraine.
Greene, who introduced a privileged resolution to audit the funds allocated to Ukraine by Congress, noted that "Congress has appropriated $54 billion to aid in the Ukrainian conflict, and then our president, Joe Biden, has requested another $38 billion this week."
"The American people, the taxpayers of this country, deserve to know where their money is going and how it's being spent," said Greene.
In the press conference, Greene said that of the aforementioned $54 billion, $44 billion "is for aid to Ukraine and other affected countries. But what other countries? And how are they affected? And how did the American people's taxpayer dollars go to those countries? And to who? And to what organization? To their government? And in what way?"
Although Greene's resolution will likely be shot down by Democrats in the House sometime in the next two weeks, the Washington Post indicated that not all Democrats are opposed to clarity on how U.S. tax dollars are being deployed in Ukraine.
"The taxpayers deserve to know that investment is going where it's intended to go," said Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.).
Crow reportedly led an initiative in the House Armed Services Committee to include in the defense bill instructions to the Pentagon inspector general to audit, investigate, and review the Pentagon's efforts to support Ukraine.
Although certain that various weapons will be inevitably be "lost," Crow said, "We're not trying to prevent every single piece from falling into the hands of the Russians, but we want to make sure it's not happening at a large scale."
Unlike Greene and McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recommended that the House Republican caucus "focus its oversight on ensuring timely delivery of needed weapons and greater allied assistance to Ukraine."
By oversight, McConnell doesn't appear to be concerned about accountability but on faster and "more proactive" weapons deliveries to Ukraine.
Glaring lack of oversight
The budget for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development in 2021 was over $53 billion. It requested billions more for fiscal year 2022.
The Washington Post reported that despite these billions of dollars, the State Department allegedly cannot afford to have weapons inspectors in Ukraine check every incoming shipment.
As of early November, only two in-person inspections had been conducted by U.S. monitors since the war began. That means only 10% of the 22,000 U.S.-provided weapons requiring enhanced oversight, including Stinger surface-to-air missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles, had been accounted for.
NBC News reported that it was only in October that Brig. Gen. Garrick Harmon, the U.S. defense attaché to Ukraine, had been dispatched to Ukraine to keep track of billions of dollars' worth of first-world weapons. Similar checks were terminated after Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
According to the State Department, included among the largely uninspected weaponry and systems committed to Ukraine are:
- Over 1,600 Sting anti-aircraft systems;
- Over 8,500 Javelin anti-armor systems;
- Over 38,000 other anti-armor systems;
- Over 700 Switchblade drones;
- 142 155mm Howitzers plus 924,000 155mm artillery rounds;
- 4,000 precision-guided 155 mm artillery rounds;
- 36 105mm Howitzers plus 180,000 105mm artillery rounds;
- 1,500 tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missiles;
- 8 national advanced surface-to-air missile systems (MASAMS) and munitions;
- 4 Avenger air defense systems;
- 20 Mi-17 helicopters;
- 45 T-72B tanks;
- 200 MII3 armored personnel carriers;
- Over 11,000 grenade launchers and small arms;
- Over 84 million rounds of small arms ammunition;
- 58 coastal and riverine patrol boats; and
- plenty of other defensive, offensive, protective, and explosive equipment, systems, and military vehicles.
While downplaying the possibility that unaccounted-for weapons might end up on the black market, the State Department conceded both that ensuring American weaponry makes it into the right hands can be "difficult" owing to the "chaotic nature of combat" and that Russia may be able to capture these weapons to "develop countermeasures, propaganda, or to conduct false-flag operations."
According to the Post, the Arms Export Control Act requires the Biden administration to provide "reasonable assurance" that the recipients of the billions of dollars' worth of weaponry are using them for their intended purposes.
With weapons going missing and so few incoming U.S. weapons inspected in Ukraine, it is unlikely a reasonable assurance can be given at the present time.
In April, one senior defense official told reporters, "I couldn't tell you where [helicopters, cannons, and Switchblade drones] are in Ukraine and whether the Ukrainians are using them at this point. ... They're not telling us every round of ammunition they're firing and who and at when."
National Security Council coordinator John Kirby suggested that weapons provided by the Pentagon were usually picked up by Ukrainian armed forces in Poland and then driven into Ukraine. Afterward, "it's up to the Ukrainians to determine where they go and how they're allocated inside their country."
On July 22, the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation issued a statement, warning that "the proliferation of firearms and explosives in Ukraine could lead to an increase in firearms and munitions trafficked into the EU via established smuggling routes or online platforms. This threat might even be higher once the conflict has ended."