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Scripps News' 1-on-1 with Ukraine's ambassador amid US aid stalemate

The United States has provided more than $44 billion in security assistance since Russia's invasion, but additional aid is tied up in Congress.
Scripps News' 1-on-1 with Ukraine's ambassador amid US aid stalemate
Posted at 12:13 PM, Feb 20, 2024

Nearly two years after Russia invaded Ukraine, Ukraine is leaning on its allies to provide more military aid for its fight for freedom. The country's ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, tells Scripps News this is a pivotal point.

"It's very difficult. People, of course, are tired of two years of full-fledged war. But as two years ago, all Ukrainians are united around fighting, defending our homes and saying that we will never surrender," Markarova said.

Can Ukraine win without U.S. support?

"Well, short answer is no. And I think it will take all of us to actually win this war," she said. "I mean, look, two years ago, we all thought Russia was the largest, or the second-strongest army in the world. Now, Ukrainians have proven that they're not really that capable or that strong, they're still very big."

In the past two years, Ukrainians have seen Russia launch a full-scale war against their country and fought to recapture at least half of Russian-occupied territory, but more recently launched a counter-offensive that's stalled and faced the difficulties of slowed military aid.

"It's two years of full-fledged war, but it's actually 10 years since Russia attacked us in 2014, also this month. So the fight is still there. The fight is very difficult. The war crimes that Russians commit on the battlefield, but also everywhere, shelling a peaceful country with missiles, torturing and killing people on the occupied territories. It's all happening as we speak," Markarova said.

The United States has provided more than $44 billion in security assistance since Russia's invasion, but Congress has failed to move forward further support requested in a national security supplemental bill. It has stalled over some House Republican lawmakers' objections tied to border policy, despite the White House sounding the alarms on the urgency of the aid.

"They need those resources, and we need Congress to do its job and pass that supplemental bill," said White House national security spokesman John Kirby.

SEE MORE: Russia claims eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka

The Kiel Institute estimates in a new report Europe would need to double its level and pace of arms assistance to replace that of the U.S. this year.

"The Ukrainian people have fought so bravely and heroically. They've put so much on the line. And the idea that now when they're running out of ammunition, we walk away, I find it absurd. I find it unethical," President Biden said following a weekend phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Over the weekend, Ukraine withdrew troops from Avdiivka. The White House previously warned Ukrainian forces were running out of artillery ammunition as Russians advanced on the destroyed town.

"The situation is extremely difficult in several parts of the front line, where Russian troops have amassed maximum reserves. They are taking advantage of the delays in aid to Ukraine," Zelenskyy said in a later speech.

While Ukrainians are desperate for the aid, Markarova does not blame the U.S. for Russia's advancements.  

"The only one who's responsible for this horrible war is Putin and Russia. Let's always be clear, you know, we might have any disagreements with our friends and allies, we want the decisions to be quicker and yesterday, but the responsibility is there, there is only one aggressor here," Markarova said.

But the ambassador is clear about the need for aid, noting the shortage of ammunition has been experienced for a while.

"Yes, we're still getting some of the capabilities which were announced last summer. They were produced and we're getting them. But we need much more. So, you know, literally right now it's a very pivotal point, when we have to show that we can stay the course. And that we can, when Russia is relying upon their partners Iran to produce drones, North Korea to produce and provide them with the missiles, we really would like to count on our friends and allies with every cent they can support us with," Markarova said.

SEE MORE: Meet the brave woman leading search dogs in war-torn Ukraine

North Korea has shipped Russia munitions and some ballistic missiles. Iran has supplied drones, as shipments have continued, according to an official familiar with the matter.

"With Iran, they are not only buying the drones from them, they are producing them already together in Russia. With North Korea, although they are denying, we already have evidence of the North Korean rockets, not only in Kharkiv, where we're already clear that Kharkiv was attacked with North Korean missiles; we're also checking the recent attack on Kyiv Oblast, and it looks like some of this might have been North Korean as well. So yes, you know, they are staying strong and helping each other and the question is, can democracies do the same? And I'm so glad to see that the majority of people here support us in the U.S. and Europe is moving forward," said Markarova.

A new survey from Pew Research Center found most Americans, 74%, thought the war was important.

That gives the ambassador hope that Congress will ultimately approve more support for Ukraine.

This week, President Biden expressed openness to meeting with House Speaker Mike Johnson, who previously said he's requested a meeting with the White House.

In addition to additional funding in the proposed aid package before Congress, the ambassador also pointed to potential use of frozen Russian assets and called for doubling down on sanctions against Russia. Recently, former President Donald Trump suggested the U.S. support Ukraine through loans.

"Well, look, we need the help. We need security capabilities. We need budget support, we need energy support. And of course, it's up to the United States on discussion, how is the most effective and quick way to provide it. And when I was the minister of finance, we negotiated and we received support from the U.S. in the form of loan guarantees. Now, of course, receiving it in the form of grants has its big pluses," the ambassador said, citing the speed of grants and ability to help Ukraine's stability faster. 

"Our goal is not to ask for the help forever. To provide us with grants right now really helps us to keep our economy under control, to preserve the workforce. But look, everything is going to be discussed right now, we are still discussing, you know, the proposal that is on the table."

Two years in, Markarova says all Ukrainians are affected by war.

"Fourteen million internally or externally displaced. Everyone in Ukraine has either someone who's in the armed forces, or who was in the occupied territories, or who was tortured — this is something that changed all of us. And of course it's difficult. It's difficult to live when you have to go down to the bomb shelter a couple of times a day, when you send kids to school, and you know that they have to go to bomb shelter, and you don't know whether they're safe there. When you live either with blackouts or without access to medical supplies. It's a full war," Markarova said. "All of us understand that it's existential for us. We unfortunately know what happens to all of us under occupation. So we really know that we don't have any choice."

But despite that, there's still determination.

"It's difficult. Sometimes people would be in despair. But then you get yourself together, you understand what is at stake, and you go ahead and do a little bit more," she said.


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