Why Does Ukraine Need Aid? Explaining the Anti-Russian Military Funds at the Center of the Trump Impeachment Scandal

The scandal swirling around President Donald Trump and aid to Ukraine has evolved into a full-blown impeachment investigation against the commander in chief, spurred by fears Trump was offering to trade vital U.S. funding for foreign interference in the 2020 election race.

During a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump reportedly requested Ukraine open an investigation into 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Trump and his allies have claimed that Biden, while serving as vice president in 2016, pressured Ukraine to drop an investigation into his son Hunter related to his work for a gas company in the country. There is no evidence that the allegations are accurate, according to FactCheck.org.

The call took place just days after $250 million in U.S. military funding for Ukraine was unexpectedly delayed. Trump has admitted discussing Biden and corruption with Zelensky, though denied asking the president to open an investigation or tying the military aid to any probe.

The scandal will be an unwelcome distraction for Zelensky, who is attempting to advance a progressive, anti-corruption domestic agenda while grappling with the ongoing war in the east of the country against Russian-backed militias.

Russian President Vladimir Putin presents his biggest challenge. Soon after pro-western Ukrainian protesters chased Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych from the country in 2014, Putin sent his forces across the border to seize and annex the Crimean peninsula.

A seperatist uprising in the east of the country followed, with rebels backed by Russian money, arms and even troops taking up arms against Kiev. The war has since claimed 13,000 lives, wounded 30,000 people and chased 1.5 million from their homes. The conflict still simmers and deadly clashes continue, despite a ceasefire agreement.

The Russian aggression prompted increased Western support to Ukraine. NATO partners were keen to better arm and train Kiev's armed forces to help them push back against a resurgent Russia that appears little concerned with the rules-based international order.

Ukraine's military is in a much better state than in 2014, when the armed forces were caught unprepared by the sudden Russian seizure of Crimea and the outbreak of fighting in the east. International assistance has been helpful, as have internal reforms to stamp out corruption and complacency.

In 2017, the Trump administration approved the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine, a step his predecessor President Barack Obama had shied away from. Obama's administration instead provided non-lethal aid and support materials, but military officials had argued this was not sufficient for a force fighting a hot war against Russia.

Since then, military shipments have included small arms, electronic warfare systems and a wide range of personnel gear and technology, including night-vision goggles. Though these are helpful for Ukrainian forces, such assistance will not change the course of the conflict.

The delayed $250 million payment was to be used for weapons, training, equipment and intelligence support, according to Politico, which first reported that the funds had been held up by the Trump administration. Congress earmarked $50 million of the total for weaponry.

However, the centerpiece weapons delivered or considered thus far could prove strategically inconsequential in eastern Ukraine, National Interest noted. Javelin anti-tank missiles, for example, mean little given the lack of armor among seperatist forces. Likewise, proposals to send portable surface-to-air systems may have symbolic weight, but such weapons would be of little use against an enemy that fields no military aircraft.

The Trump administration is walking a fine line. While it wants to strengthen Ukrainian forces and stop the advance of pro-Russian forces, Washington is also wary of providing weapons so potent that Moscow will be forced to respond in kind.

Ukraine, military, aid, Donald Trump, impeachment
Ukrainian servicemen take part in a drill of the airborne troops taking place in Zhytomyr region of Ukraine on November 21, 2018. SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images/Getty