One year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, polls show that a rising number of Americans — though well short of a majority — are tiring of U.S. support for Ukraine.
In polls conducted in March, May and September of 2022 and in January of 2023, the Pew Research Center found that the share of respondents who said the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine grew steadily, from 7% to 12% to 20% to 26%.
Other polling also shows that an increasing number of Americans don’t want the U.S. to keep sending weapons or government funds directly to Ukraine.
Surveys show that the weakening of support is most clearly visible among Republicans, as some congressional Republicans and GOP presidential candidates express skepticism about backing Ukraine. Among the respondents to the Pew polls who identified as Republicans or said they lean toward the GOP, the share that said the U.S. was providing too much support to Ukraine quadrupled in just 10 months, from 9% in March 2022 to 40% in January 2023.
Overall, Americans continue to support Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself, even if it means a prolonged conflict, polling shows. Still, as the U.S. spends more money on Ukraine, a growing number of Americans are having second thoughts.
So far, President Joe Biden and his allies have been steadfast in not sending troops to fight in Ukraine, to avoid a direct faceoff with nuclear-armed Russia. The U.S. has also stopped short of sending certain types of weapons, including long-range missiles and fighter jets. But the administration and European nations have become more open to sending Ukraine a wider variety of arms for their fighters to use, such as battle tanks.
On the anniversary of Russia’s invasion, we’ll look at the specific ways the U.S. has aided Ukraine, and why analysts believe U.S. involvement is crucial.
What has the U.S. done for Ukraine?
Since the war began Feb. 24, 2022, Congress has approved four separate measures that allocated money to benefit Ukraine, totaling $113 billion.
Not all of this aid has been for Ukraine’s military. Of the $113 billion spent to benefit Ukraine, $50 billion has been direct aid to Ukraine’s military. An additional $27 billion has been to support the Ukrainian government, plus $15 billion for humanitarian assistance.
And $16 billion more has supported the U.S. military in its efforts, while $7 billion has gone to other federal agencies. (The U.S. military funds have included money for forces deployed to Eastern Europe to reassure allies, and the U.S. agency spending covers things such as Justice Department investigations of war crimes, efforts to prevent human trafficking and nuclear nonproliferation efforts.)
The U.S. government requires Ukraine to certify that all weapons being sent are going to Ukrainian military forces and are not be given to a third party, said Mark F. Cancian, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a national security think tank in Washington, D.C. The economic aid is being funneled through the World Bank, while the humanitarian aid is being sent to nongovernmental aid groups.
A chunk of the $113 billion has not been spent yet. Some will be rolled out in the coming months. “We spend about $7 billion a month on average” from the allocations made in the four bills, Cancian said. Some dollars won’t be spent for years, in the case of some of the funds intended for building new weapons.
The scale of the military aid to Ukraine is huge, compared with the amounts given in typical years to U.S. military partners. The biggest recipient of U.S. military aid in 2020, Israel, received $3.3 billion. The next four biggest recipients in 2020 — Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan — received from $500 million to $2.8 billion.
In total money spent on Ukraine, the U.S. leads the rest of the world. Coming closest is the European Union, which has provided slightly more than the U.S. in financial and humanitarian aid, but none in military aid. (The European Union is a political and economic union consisting of 27 countries.)
Some EU member nations are providing money for Ukraine independently of the EU. Ranking next after the European Union are the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, Fance, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan and Italy, though in much smaller amounts.
However, a few countries are providing a larger percentage of their gross domestic product to Ukraine than the U.S. is doing. The top four countries by this metric include countries that are close to the border with Russia and are concerned about their security: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Why is the U.S. helping Ukraine?
Why shouldn’t the U.S. disengage from Ukraine and spend the billions of dollars on domestic needs instead? Analysts cite a range of reasons, both practical and moral, why the choice is justified.
“Helping Ukraine, from this point of view, is in the interests of our country because it reduces Russia’s ability to threaten us now and in the future,” said Erik S. Herron, a West Virginia University political scientist who has studied the region. “It may also have additional benefits, causing other aggressive powers to reconsider military action due to the lessons of this war. In that way, it could further strengthen national security.”
Here are a few of the specific arguments being made for why the U.S. should remain involved in Ukraine.
Existing commitments. During the negotiations that preceded the signing of the Budapest Memorandum — which set the terms for Ukraine giving up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons — “Ukrainian officials asked what Washington would do if Russia were to violate its commitments,” wrote Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who is now a scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank. “U.S. officials said the United States would take an interest and support Ukraine.”
The importance of stability in Europe. Protecting European stability is a “core security, political, and economic” interest that provided the rationale for the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, Pifer wrote. “A Russian victory in the current war with Ukraine would have a major negative impact on stability and security in Europe,” he wrote in November.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that by taking Ukrainian territory, he is simply “returning” historic Russian lands to Russian control. This would put the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in Putin’s crosshairs, along with Finland and part of Poland, since all were once controlled by Moscow. And each of these countries is a NATO member.
If Russia wins the war in Ukraine, it would “put smaller neighboring countries and NATO at risk,” said Lance Janda, a military historian at Cameron University. “That’s why Finland and Sweden, after decades of neutrality, are clamoring to join NATO, and it’s why the smaller countries of Europe are unanimous in denouncing the Russians.”
If this sounds like the now-discredited Cold War “domino theory” that led to U.S. involvement in Vietnam to contain Soviet ambitions, it does — but only up to a point, said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at Brookings. “It is different because it is more specific,” he said. During the Cold War, the domino theory was about combating the global ambitions of the communist ideology. But now under Putin, it’s much more specific — it’s about “reclaiming parts of the former Russian/Soviet empire,” he said.
Janda agreed that Putin’s threat is more concrete than the Soviet Union’s during the Cold War, which ran from soon after World War II until the fall of the Soviet bloc between 1989 and 1991.
“Ukraine is different because the Russians aren’t being subtle or manipulating elections or covertly supporting an insurgency, and they’re not spreading an ideology that we are afraid will seem appealing to nonaligned countries,” Janda said. “Theirs is a straight-up, old-school overt conventional invasion, no different than the ones launched by other tyrants in history.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a land grab enabled by war crimes, “isn’t abstract or in the future,” Janda said. “It’s here and now.”
Preserving international norms. The most basic international norm at risk is the notion that “large states should not use force to take territory from smaller states,” Pifer wrote. “That is precisely what Putin is attempting now. If international norms break down, other autocratic states will likewise be emboldened. A ‘dog-eat-dog’ world without such norms will be a much more difficult place in which to pursue a range of U.S. political, security, and economic interests.”
Moral norms are at risk, too. “Russian occupation of Ukrainian towns and cities has meant torture chambers, mass arrests, summary executions, filtration camps and deportations, including of children separated from their parents and sent to Russia for adoption by Russian families,” Pifer wrote. “The United States has an interest in opposing such grave human rights abuses and in supporting Kyiv’s efforts to hold those responsible to account.”
If the U.S. is “truly the ‘leader of the free world,’ and we still believe in supporting freedom and democracy, that should be enough reason by itself,” Janda said.
Russia’s invasion and the United States’ response to it sends a particularly important message to China, analysts agreed.
“A Russian victory would elevate the danger to Taiwan,” which China considers its own territory and would be at risk of a Chinese invasion, Janda said. “China is watching the way the West responds to Russian aggression and taking our collective measure. Weakness now guarantees a greater danger of war with them in the future.”
In the big picture, giving U.S. assistance now is relatively cheap. Right now, the U.S. is spending money on Ukraine, but it’s not shedding its own blood. If the U.S. were to sit out the Ukraine war and Russia were to invade countries the U.S. has committed to defend through NATO, that could change.
“Supporting Ukraine is far less expensive than fighting the Russians,” Janda said. “We’re getting a huge return on our investment.” Essentially, Ukrainian fighters are degrading the military of a geopolitical threat without the U.S. having to risk any of its own lives. “Pulling our support from Ukraine would make a wider war with Russia more likely, not less,” Janda said.
Herron acknowledged that some Americans “will not be swayed” by the arguments in favor of U.S. involvement in Ukraine.
“They may not see Russia as hostile, or Ukraine as worthy,” Herron said. “But the evidence supports — at a minimum — the view that helping Ukraine benefits U.S. national security.”