Biden under pressure to step up weapons tracking in Ukraine

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Emboldened by their success in the midterm elections, House Republicans, who will hold a slim majority in the next Congress, have warned the Biden administration to expect tougher oversight of the extensive military aid provided to Ukraine.

The administration has worked in recent weeks to publicize its efforts to track weapons shipments, anticipating such demands that military aid commitments under President Biden are fast approaching $20 billion. Both the State Department and the Pentagon have laid out plans, including more vetting and training for Ukrainians, intended to prevent U.S. weapons from falling into the wrong hands — initiatives that have so far failed to quell Republican skeptics calling for an audit and other accountability measures.

Most in Washington generally agree that pushing for more oversight is a good idea. But experts warn there are credible limits to ensuring an airtight account of all weapons given to Ukraine, which could displease Biden’s harshest critics.

“There are shortcomings of end-use monitoring in the best of circumstances, and of course Ukraine is not in the best of circumstances,” said Elias Youssef, a researcher on the global arms trade with the Stimson Center. “There has to be some willingness to be pragmatic about what we can achieve.”

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Until now, the megaphone Demand shift is primarily controlled by the GOP. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) announced this month that Congress would “hold our government accountable for all funding to Ukraine.” The move to audit the aid program comes after Biden requested another $37 billion for the government in Kyiv. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the current leader of House Republicans, told CNN in an interview that he cautioned against giving Ukraine a “blank check” to fight Russian aggression.

Yet the reckoning may begin even before a Republican takeover. A series of provisions proposed in the House-passed version of this year’s annual defense authorization bill would require a web of overlapping reports from the Pentagon and inspector general, who police transfer articles of war, as well as the establishment of a task force to design and implement enhanced tracking measures.

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And unlike the growing GOP chorus of Ukraine skepticism, such line items — though not reconciled with the Senate’s version of a bill still pending in that chamber — enjoy largely bipartisan support.

“Taxpayers deserve to know where the investment is going,” Rep. Jason Crowe (D-Colo.), a veteran-turned-legislator, said in an interview.

Crowe led an effort on the House Armed Services Committee to include in the defense bill instructions for the Defense Department’s inspector general to review, audit, investigate and review the Pentagon’s efforts to support Ukraine. He called the directive “necessary,” despite the Defense Department and the Ukrainians failing to take the matter seriously.

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“In any war, there can be missteps and misallocation of supplies,” he explained. But Crow acknowledged that there are likely to be limits to the scope of the audit the United States can provide.

“We’re not playing mission perfection here. It’s a brutal, large-scale ground war — house-to-house, street-to-street, trench-to-trench. Things get lost,” he said. We want to.”

Lawmakers, Pentagon officials and experts note that so far, there are few clear reasons for concern. Ukraine, a proactive manager of the aid it receives, he said, readily reports on how US military aid is used — a gesture officials believe is no small part of Kyiv’s effort to get more of it. . There is a sense that Ukrainians have a more existential national pride, risking compromising their efforts to drive out the Russians by siphoning weapons onto the black market.

But the specter of a deadly material falling through the cracks has alarmed many — especially as Ukrainian citizens face desperate challenges for their basic survival as the West pours smaller, less-detectable weapons into the country.

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Part of the concern is due to practical limitations. According to Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the United States will conduct weapons inspections in Ukraine “when and where security conditions permit” in locations “that are not on the front lines of Russia’s war against Ukraine.” Ryder declined to provide further details on the inspection program, citing concerns about operational security and force protection.

Yet the State Department has a limited budget for weapons inspectors stationed in Ukraine and therefore cannot inspect every incoming shipment, according to officials. By early November, US monitors had conducted just two in-person inspections since the war began in February – about 10 percent of the 22,000 US-supplied weapons, including Stinger surface-to-air missiles and Javelin anti-aircraft missiles. Enhanced monitoring.

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Crowe and others want the State Department to expand its list of experts to conduct more regular inspections at in-country depots and transfer points.

Another reason is the law. “End-use monitoring” is governed by the Arms Export Control Act, which requires presidential administrations to provide “reasonable assurance” that recipients of military aid are using the weapons for their intended purpose and complying with any conditions. through the United States.

In most cases, that inspection takes place only at the point of transferring the weapons to Ukrainian custody. only In special cases, Generally When the weapons in question contain sensitive technology, “enhanced” oversight is required of the receiving country. This involves tracking serial numbers and submitting reports from the field. In Ukraine, such items include Stingers, Javelins, Avenger air defenses and night vision equipment.

The existing system isn’t good enough, some lawmakers argue. Before the war, Ukraine ranked fairly low on global corruption indices.

“With the volumes of goods we’re pushing, it’s our responsibility to have third-party oversight. We do it all over the world,” Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) said in an interview. He pointed out that such practices are used everywhere from India to Israel and in countries “higher on the corruption and transparency index” than Ukraine.

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Waltz, who worked with Crowe and others to push several bipartisan measures on the defense bill calling for greater oversight, supports better arming Ukrainian fighters. But he believes the Biden administration is too skittish about using Americans to get a clearer view of how US weapons are being managed.

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“There are veterans groups running all over the country right now,” Waltz said, noting that they could be subcontracted to report to the Pentagon and State Department on how weapons are being used closer to the front lines. In its brief, Waltz argues that U.S. inspectors cannot be sent to Ukraine’s central weapons depots, but “down to the brigade or battalion headquarters level” without undue risk.

So far, the Biden administration has resisted pressure to send inspectors or other military personnel too deep into Ukraine, for fear of provoking a wider conflict. According to the US The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters, said American experts currently conduct weapons inspections unarmed — a situation that would be untenable if they were sent closer to the front lines.

The Biden administration is adamant, say officials and lawmakers who have briefed them, that it does not hint at a dangerous situation that the Kremlin interprets as direct American involvement in the war.

But Waltz noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been waging a propaganda campaign accusing the United States and NATO of working covertly in Ukraine to turn the population against Moscow. “That is self-limitation on the part of the administration,” he argued. “There’s an acceptable risk of people behind the front checking where all this aid is going and helping Ukrainians use it more effectively.”

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