Putin must not win, democracy must prevail
As one of the only members of Congress to spend the night in Ukraine since Russia’s unprovoked attack in February, I have witnessed the 24-hour cycle of a capital city finding energy in the daily routine. I traveled to Kyiv to participate in the European Strategy Conference in Yalta, where President Volodymyr Zelensky and senior Ukrainian officials warned that the next 90 days could determine the outcome of the war in Ukraine and that winter would be difficult. The purpose of our meetings was to discuss with our NATO allies how we can continue to support Ukraine and end Russia’s chosen war.
Critically, we discussed the urgent need to start planning for Ukraine’s economic recovery, a plan that Ukraine must lead and which will not come cheap. The World Bank estimates that recovery and reconstruction costs for Ukraine currently stand at $349 billion. But before reconstruction begins, global partners, including the IMF and our European allies, must remain firm in their pledges of fiscal support. Financial assistance is just as important as the security assistance that Washington has faithfully provided. Kyiv needs $5-6 billion in monthly budget support to keep its finances afloat and to pay its teachers, doctors, pensions, etc. Ukraine is expected to run a budget deficit of $38 billion in the coming year, and experts and officials in Kyiv have expressed concern that Ukraine could soon enter a hyperinflationary cycle. Putin wins if Ukraine’s finances collapse.
Make no mistake – even if allied nations send vital military aid, sustained economic commitments will be needed for years to come. This is a mandate that the United States and any global partner who cares about peace and stability in Europe should readily uphold.
For conference attendees, security was understandably tight. Russian President Vladimir Putin remains indiscriminate in his attacks, sending missiles to target civilians in schools, apartment buildings and train stations. As recently as July 28, six Russian missiles landed outside the capital, injuring civilians. Several air raid warnings went off while I was there, but the Ukrainians remain unfazed. Bomb shelters in Kyiv are empty. I felt relatively safe as I walked the busy busy streets of Kyiv – the shops are open and the restaurants are busy. About 80% of Kyiv residents have returned. Experiencing a city that seven months ago was at risk of being occupied by Russia reminds us how precious our freedoms are and how much they depend on our determination to defend them. This was all too apparent after a visit to Bucha, where we saw one of the mass grave sites and witnessed evidence of war crimes committed by Russian soldiers.
Resistance takes many forms and everyone joins in. For the brave Ukrainian troops on the battlefield, it is the relentless defense of their sovereign territory. For some citizens off the battlefield, the resistance is mobilizing volunteers to deliver food, build bomb shelters in schools, and administer basic first aid. The resistance is also coming to Kyiv, despite the risks, and reassuring the men and women on the front lines of democracy that we are with them and will continue to be with them. More than two hundred days since the Kremlin launched its great military escalation in Ukraine, the spirit of resilience that fills Kyiv and its people is inspiring.
As we sat in central Kyiv, Ukrainian forces recaptured more territory than the Russians had in the previous five months. Ukraine’s counter-offensive was stunning and the Ukrainians told me how surprised they were by its rapid success.
I do not deny the magnitude of the challenge ahead of us, and the war is far from over. President Zelensky expressed his gratitude to me and to others for the Western mobilization in support of Ukraine. But as long as Russian forces remain on sovereign Ukrainian territory, the United States and our allies must continue to provide Ukraine with all the military tools it needs. I look forward to supporting this essential assistance in future funding packages presented to Congress and urge my colleagues to do the same. But we must also be aware that Allied support for medium and long-term economic recovery plans is vital for Ukraine’s survival.
Now is a watershed moment in American and world history. Our actions today to protect our democratic way of life will determine our future success as a nation in the 21st century. Guided by the resilience and bravery of Ukrainians, and for the good of the free world, it is essential that Ukraine wins. This is the test of our time – we must rise to face it.
Jim Costa represents California’s 16th District in the United States House of Representatives. He is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is the US chair of the Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue, an interparliamentary group between the US House of Representatives and the European Parliament.