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Failed Russian mutiny boosts prospects for more US arms to Ukraine

Failed Russian mutiny boosts prospects for more US arms to Ukraine
Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin pictured in Saint Petersburg on 17 June 2016. His mercenaries' failed mutiny against the Russian government forces may spur bolder commitments from other NATO countries. (Photo: Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images)

President Joe Biden says it’s too early to tell what the turmoil in Moscow will mean for Vladimir Putin. But the 24-hour mutiny by mercenaries is likely to bolster those in Washington seeking to boost support for Ukraine’s war effort.

The failed rebellion by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s soldiers-for-hire against Russian government forces may spur bolder commitments from other NATO countries when their leaders gather next month in Vilnius, Lithuania, according to a person familiar with the Biden administration’s thinking who asked not to be identified discussing private discussions. 

Allies that have pushed for more aggressive backing will find their position strengthened on the basis that the turmoil highlights Putin’s vulnerability.

“Those who are arguing for continued support for Ukraine are going to make the argument that this war could be shorter than we anticipated, but we need to press the advantage at this point,” said Thomas Graham of the Council on Foreign Relations, a former National Security Council senior director for Russia. “That is the argument you’re going to hear now in the run-up to the NATO summit in particular.”

The US has maintained a regular cadence of security assistance to Kyiv, purchasing new systems for eventual use in Ukraine and pulling weapons from Defence Department stocks. On Tuesday, the US committed its 41st installment of equipment from Pentagon inventories, as much as $500-million in weapons, including anti-armor systems and ammunition for HIMARS rockets.

Today I am authorizing our 41st drawdown of security assistance for Ukraine. A just and lasting peace requires a stronger Ukraine capable of defeating and deterring any aggression.

— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) June 27, 2023

But funding to support the flow of aid is expected to run out later this year, requiring a new appropriation from Congress. While bipartisan support remains strong, the Biden administration has braced for a fight with some conservative lawmakers who have either demanded more scrutiny of US aid or advocated halting assistance entirely.

Former president Donald Trump, the leading GOP presidential contender for 2024, has also weighed in, saying “if I were president I would end that war in one day” by cutting a deal he hasn’t spelled out.

More oversight

Last week, Republican-led House committees used their proposed defence bills for fiscal 2024 to create a Special Inspector General for Ukraine security assistance, a move intended to provide more oversight of US resources provided to Ukraine.

Publicly, US officials said they’ve reassured Ukraine the money will keep flowing. 

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Tuesday that the US would maintain its support for Ukraine and suggested more aid would come soon. “You will see continued actions from us in the very near future to continue to supply the Ukrainian military with the equipment, the military equipment that it needs, to press their case on the battlefield,” he said at a briefing.

US legislators will debate how much more support to provide Ukraine as part of a supplemental spending bill, which wouldn’t count toward the cap on defence spending set under the bipartisan agreement to raise the debt ceiling. 

With funds for Ukraine not expected to run out for months, some analysts say the more immediate concern is the outcome of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which is proving a difficult slog early on but may benefit from the events of the last few days.

“Wagner was the only entity that helped Russia make any battlefield advances,” said Richard Fontaine, chief executive officer of the Centre for a New American Security. “If Wagner goes away as an entity, it’s conceivable that it could harm Russia’s position on the battlefield.”

The US and allied governments are watching from a distance, optimistic that Ukraine can only gain from Russia’s troubles.

In an interview with Bloomberg News on the sidelines of a gathering of Nordic leaders in Iceland this week, Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said the mutiny highlighted fractures inside Russia’s armed forces.

“It illustrates the pressure on Russia, having launched this brutal attack that did not go according to plan, has met fierce resistance from Ukraine which is now being supported by country after country, region after region,” Store said. DM


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