Mitt Romney’s Four Mistakes on Aid to Ukraine

Republican Senator and former U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney responded to critics for the amount of U.S. assistance provided to Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression. In response to allegations that the United States cannot afford to finance the armed forces of Ukraine, he said: “The idea that it’s too expensive is a little funny.”

“We spend about $850 billion (£685 billion) a year on defence. We’re using about five per cent of that to help Ukraine. My goodness, to defend freedom and to decimate the Russian military – a country with 1,500 nuclear weapons aimed at us. To be able to do that with five per cent of your military budget strikes me as an extraordinarily wise investment and not by any means something we can’t afford,” Romney said.

Mitt Romney’s statement is understandable, but it contains four errors.

1. The real amount of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine in 2022-2023

Romney said U.S. military aid to Ukraine represents about 5% of annual U.S. defense spending of $840 billion, which translates to about $42 billion.

Unfortunately, this figure is not accurate.

According to the latest press release from the U.S. Department of Defense, since the beginning of large-scale Russian aggression against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the United States has promised to provide $43.7 billion of military assistance to Ukraine.

However, on the same date, the United States actually transferred military assistance to Ukraine is only $19.4 billion, which results from the addition:

2. Time-correct comparison of aid to Ukraine and U.S. defense spending

Romney incorrectly compared U.S. military aid to Ukraine over nearly 19 months of intense military action with defense spending over the course of one year. To obtain a correct result, it is necessary to compare the assistance actually provided to Ukraine and U.S. expenditures on national defense over comparable time periods.

U.S. defense spending and U.S. military assistance to Ukraine in 2022 and 2023

Indicators/ Years 2022 2023 2022 and 2023
U.S. expenditures on national defense, in billions of dollars 838.8 905.5 1744.3
Actual U.S. military assistance to Ukraine, in billions of dollars 7.9 11.5 19.4
Percentage of total U.S. national defense spent on military assistance to Ukraine 0.94% 1.27% 1.11%

Source of data on U.S. government budget expenditures:

The table shows that U.S. military assistance actually provided to Ukraine amounted to:

  • in 2022 – 0.94%,
  • in 2023 – 1.27%,
  • in 2022-2023 – 1.11% of U.S. national defense spending.

Thus, military aid actually transferred by the U.S. to Ukraine as of September 18, 2023 only slightly exceeded 1% of annual U.S. military expenditures.

3. Possibility of defeating the aggressor troops

Although Russia has suffered serious losses over the past almost 19 months of wide-scale military operations against Ukraine, neither its destruction nor its defeat has occurred. Further, there have been increasing reports of an uptick in military production in Russia. It should be recognized that the provision of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine at the current drip-dropper level – at a level of just over 1% of the annual U.S. military budget – is, in principle, not capable of leading to the destruction of the second largest army “with 1,500 nuclear weapons.”

4. The price of defending freedom

“To defend freedom and to decimate the Russian military,” which Romney spoke about, occurs not only thanks to the supply of military aid from Ukraine’s partners, including the United States, but also, above all, thanks to the lives and health of Ukrainian military personnel. In an interview with the Washington Post on June 30, 2023, the commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valery Zaluzhny, shared the following calculation: “If I don’t receive 100,000 shells a week, then 1,000 people will die.”

During almost 19 months of large-scale military operations, the United States supplied Ukraine with a total of 3.6 million shells, mines, and missiles, which is approximately 44,000 units of ammunition per week. Thus, the shortfall in the supply of ammunition required at the front over more than a year and a half of intense military operations averages at least 56,000 shells per week. How many servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine died, were wounded, became disabled because they were not supplied with the ammunition necessary?

If the U.S. supplied 100,000 shells per week, it would be an increase of 2.3 times. If all other types of military assistance were proportionally increased at the same time, then U.S. military aid to Ukraine would amount to 2.5% of annual U.S. military spending. The total value of assistance in this scenario would be $46 billion, only a few billion short of the $48.7 billion dollars military aid to Ukraine Congress has actually approved for 2022 and 2023.

Whether such a modest increase in the supply of military aid would have led to the destruction of Russia’s troops and their expulsion from all the territories it occupied can’t be known, but it would certainly have saved the lives of thousands and tens of thousands of Ukrainians.


Andrei Illarionov

Senior Analyst for Russian and European Affairs.


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EDITORS NOTE: This Center for Security Policy column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

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