Could a US government shutdown harm Ukrainian war efforts?

What could the effects of diminished American aid to Ukraine be?

M1 Abrams tanks seen during a training exercise in Europe
Ukraine has been assisted by U.S. aid, including American tanks, for months
(Image credit: Artur Widak / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

As fighting continues in Congress to avoid a government shutdown, the war in Ukraine will enter its 20th month soon. As Ukrainian fighters continue to try and dispel the Russian forces, the country has received both monetary and material support from the United States. But the looming shutdown of the U.S. government could have a series of effects on this aid. 

Sending additional funds to Ukraine appears to be a major sticking point for the shutdown, as Republicans in the House and Senate are divided on the issue — most GOP senators support helping Ukraine, while the majority of GOP representatives appear opposed. As a result, money for Ukraine "is now stuck in limbo as part of a complicated fight over spending that is pitting Republicans against one another," NPR reported. This includes the person at the center of the shutdown debate, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who "has shown tepid support for Ukraine" as the argument for additional aid has faltered, NPR added. 

Given that the United States has sent billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine since the start of the war, what would happen if American assistance was cut off? While there appears to be a clear consensus that Ukraine's war efforts would be affected, would these effects have a major impact on the conflict, or an impact that is more muted?

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A shutdown could decimate Ukrainian training

If the government were to shut down, it would halt all Defense Department "non-essential" activities — such as funding Ukraine. This could cause a domino effect that could cut off the "delivery of defense articles, services and/or military education and training," U.S. Defense Department spokesperson Chris Sherwood told Politico

This could be cataclysmic for Ukraine's soldiers, Politico reported, as "U.S. and Western military training has been key to Ukraine’s progress so far in the war." The outlet noted that more than 73,000 Ukrainians have been trained on "Western weapons and tactics." This includes 200 Ukrainians whom the Defense Department is currently training to operate a U.S. Army M1 Abrams tank. A government shutdown could additionally "delay training of Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets," Sherwood opined.

A shutdown "could also impact the delivery and execution of aid provided under...the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative," Natasha Bertrand and Oren Liebermann reported for CNN, which funds the production of war equipment itself. This means the Pentagon would "not be able to ink any new contracts with defense companies to produce more equipment" for Ukraine, the pair added. 

While a government shutdown would allow exemptions for matters of national security, it is unclear whether aid for Ukraine would fall under this category. In the end, "every sustainable war rests on a foundation of political support," William Galston argued for the Brookings Institute. Allowing a drawn-out debate on the matter of aid "could prove fatal for the prospects of continued U.S. funding, which is vital for sustaining Ukraine’s ability to resist," Galston added. 

Ukraine might keep getting aid despite a shutdown

Some have argued that a government shutdown wouldn't entirely spell doom for Ukraine. Even if Congress was to come to a standstill, "funding for the continued weapons shipments would be able to continue even in the case of a shutdown," Nate  Ostiller wrote for The Kyiv Independent

This is due to an accounting error at the Pentagon that allowed for an additional $6.2 billion in military aid to Ukraine, and "the already earmarked funding is not subject to fiscal year limitations." However, Ostiller added that the aid shipment "could still be interrupted due to furloughs and other shutdown-related disruptions."

Even if there were to be a government shutdown, others say that the prior aid given to Ukraine will be enough to sustain the country's forces, at least for the time being. American defense contractors have "done a 'remarkable' job in streamlining processes to get Ukraine the gear it needs in a timely manner," Pentagon official William LaPlante opined, per Air and Space Forces Magazine. The lessons learned from providing aid, particularly when it comes to teaching the Ukrainians about maintaining gear, "is applicable to how the U.S. may sustain equipment in future conflicts, as tele-maintenance will make it possible to reduce the forward footprint of troops and contractors," the outlet added. 

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