In Ukraine, American taxpayers funding more than just the military | 60 Minutes – CBS News

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By Aliza Chasan
/ CBS News
As the war in Ukraine grinds toward its third year, America has provided more than $70 billion in aid, with billions going not just toward the military, but also to help farmers, subsidize small businesses and pay the country’s first responders. 
The U.S. has played a critical role in bankrolling Ukraine’s fight for survival since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 2022. While Ukrainians fight for their lives, a battle is brewing in Washington over the Biden administration’s request for more than $20 billion more in Ukraine aid. Some Republicans in Congress are opposed; hardliners in the House want to cut off all funding while others are demanding more oversight. 
The U.S has spent just over $43 billion on military aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded — that’s equivalent to about 5% of the American defense budget. European countries combined have contributed around $30 billion. 
The U.S. has also sent military equipment, including 186 Bradley fighting vehicles, which are worth around $2 million each. 
American taxpayers are providing more than just weapons. The U.S. has pumped nearly $25 billion of non-military aid into Ukraine’s economy since the invasion began.
The bulk of America’s contribution to Ukraine has gone toward military aid. American rocket launchers are now reaching deep into Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine. The Patriot air defense system is shielding millions of Ukrainian civilians from airstrikes.
Earlier in September, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made his fourth trip to Ukraine since Russia invaded. He stood next to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at a press conference and stressed that the U.S. would continue to aid Ukraine.
“The United States is committed to empowering Ukraine to write its own future,” Blinken said at a press conference while in Ukraine. “In the crucible of President Putin’s brutal and ongoing war, the United States and Ukraine have forged a partnership that is stronger than ever and growing every day.”
Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who served as the commander of the U.S. Army in Europe until 2017, said the assistance has been crucial to Ukraine’s survival.
“Without that sort of aid, I think Ukraine would’ve been probably overrun, defeated, certainly would’ve lost a lot more,” Hodges said. 
The war has also impacted Ukraine’s financial standing, with the country’s economy contracting by an estimated 31% last year, according to the United States Agency for International Development. 
The U.S. government is subsidizing small businesses in Ukraine, including Tatiana Abramova’s knitwear company, to keep them afloat. 
American officials from USAID helped Abramova find new customers overseas. In the midst of war, her company is supporting over 70 families. 
“Especially in the condition of war, we have to work,” she said. “We have to pay taxes, we have to pay wage, salary to our employees. We have to work, don’t stop.”
The U.S. government has also bought seeds and fertilizer for Ukrainian farmers. America is covering the salaries of Ukraine’s first responders, all 57,000 of them. The U.S. funds divers who clear unexploded ammunition from the country’s rivers to make them safe again for swimming and fishing. 
Some of the concerns over aid to Ukraine boil down to oversight. Ukraine is a young democracy with a history of corruption. According to the monitoring group Transparency International, it’s ranked the second most corrupt country in Europe. Only Russia scores lower.
A report from the Pentagon’s Inspector General last year found the U.S. government was unable to monitor weapons transfers in the early months of the war, in part because the American embassy’s staff was evacuated. Criminal groups in Ukraine stole some weapons and equipment from the country’s military, though they were later recovered by Ukrainian intelligence services. 
Oleksandra Ustinova, a former anti-corruption activist who is now an outspoken member of Ukraine’s parliament, claims that systems are now in place to make sure that never happens again. She chairs a government commission that tracks all military aid coming to Ukraine. 
“We have online databases with the serial numbers of every American piece of weapon that your embassy has access to,” Ustinova said. “They can come, type in, let’s say, a Javelin [missile] or a HIMARS and see in which brigade it is, and then go check it if they don’t believe.”
It’s a top priority for Ukraine. 
“We’re not stupid to shoot ourselves in the leg,” Ustinova said. “We understand we would never [have] made it without the United States, and we’re not gonna make it without the United States.”
Posters were shared around Ukraine earlier this year featuring an American hotline for Ukrainians to report misuse of assistance from U.S. aid. American officials are now investigating four criminal cases involving non-military aid, and 170 Ukrainian government officials — including high-ranking military officers — have been charged in corruption cases so far this year, for crimes like embezzlement and accepting bribes.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren was recently in Kyiv, along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Lindsey Graham, to monitor the situation. 
“We have to have confidence that the dollars we’re spending are actually being spent in defense of the nation,” Warren said. “All of that is important. But that’s why we’re here.”
The senators, and other U.S. officials, told 60 Minutes there have been no substantiated cases of American weapons being diverted. 
“We’re monitoring. We’re following every piece of equipment,” Blumenthal said. “There has been no diversion. No evidence of misappropriation. This is an American success story on aiding a partner fighting for freedom.”
Americans face their own financial challenges and many question if the country should be sending so much money overseas. Sen. Graham feels it’s some of the best money the U.S. has ever spent. 
“Here’s what we’ve gotten for our investment. We haven’t lost one soldier. We reduced the combat power of the Russian army by 50%, and not one of us has died in that endeavor,” Graham said. “This is a great deal for America.”
The outcome of the war may be decided by America’s willingness to keep paying. Lieutenant Oleksandr Shyrshyn, a father of two who enlisted on the day Russia invaded Ukraine, pointed to the cost for Ukrainians.
“Ukrainians pay with their lives,” he said. “And I believe and I hope that their lives cost much more than money, much more than taxpayers’ money.”
This story was reported by Holly Williams, Erin Lyall and Eliza Costas.
Aliza Chasan is a digital producer at 60 Minutes and CBS News.
First published on September 24, 2023 / 7:00 PM
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