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The U.S. aims to ensure that the aid to Ukraine goes where it's supposed to go


The U.S. has been supporting Ukraine's fight against Russia with billions of dollars in aid and weapons. But lawmakers from both parties have voiced concerns about oversight. And while there's no evidence of any wrongdoing related to Ukraine aid, potential abuse of U.S. taxpayer money, as we have seen in previous wars, could erode public support for Kyiv. We called up retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian, who's a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to find out what the government is doing to prevent such a scenario.

MARK CANCIAN: Well, the government's doing a couple of things to track the money and the weapons. The various bills that have provided for the aid have given the government a few million dollars to increase their oversight. The United States tracks the weapons right to the point where we turn them over to the Ukrainians at some base in Poland. The United States has a small group in the embassy that works with the Ukrainian government to track the money and the weapons. The government has worked directly with their counterparts, including President Zelenskyy, to get their assurances that the money and weapons are going to the appropriate uses. And then there's some spot checks that sometimes the United States can make about both the weapons and the funding.

MARTÍNEZ: I think what people are worried about, or at least concerned about, is that the money is going places where maybe it's not supposed to go. I know that Ukraine, even before the war began, was considered a very corrupt country. They have their share of oligarchs, just like Russia does. So I think people are worried that maybe the money that's being sent to Ukraine is going into the hands of oligarchs who are now calling themselves freedom fighters.

CANCIAN: Well, I think this is a reasonable concern. Ukraine, before the war, was known for inefficient government and some level of corruption. Although, the government and the people have fought valiantly, that doesn't make the government more efficient or less corrupt. We ran into this problem in Afghanistan and created a group called the SIGAR - the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction - that had people on the ground, had a large staff back here in the United States to track money and equipment. And I think that that would be a good step to take for two reasons.

First is that although there have not been any reports about abuses or corruption, it's possible that something might come out. If anything like that came out, if there were intimations about abuse, that would undermine the bipartisan consensus that has existed in the country and in the Congress for supporting aid to Ukraine. I think that many people, if there were evidence of abuse, waste, fraud, would back away from the aid. And I think that would, you know, cause a lot of problems for sustaining Ukrainian resistance.

MARTÍNEZ: Is it unreasonable to expect every single dollar and cent to be accounted for? Or is there going to be just some level of money that won't show up or that people have to understand just gets lost in the shuffle?

CANCIAN: Well, the total amount of aid at this point is $68 billion. I mean, that goes to several different directions, you know? Some of it is to buy weapons. Some of it is humanitarian aid that mostly goes through third parties. And then some of it goes directly to the Ukrainian government. I think it's reasonable to expect a high level of oversight and accountability. You have to keep in mind that most of the U.S. government can't pass an audit. So you know, we shouldn't ask them to do - to meet a standard that we can't meet ourselves. But what we're really trying to prevent is, you know, some widespread abuse that would affect, you know, large amounts of money and, you know, aid packages and sustainability.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned SIGAR, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction. I know that SIGAR, in its quarterly reports, repeatedly stated that the Pentagon often denied to share information needed to provide oversight. How do you balance transparency with national security concerns?

CANCIAN: I think in Ukraine, it's maybe a little easier because U.S. forces are not engaged in operations. So you don't have this question about compromising ongoing U.S. operations. So I think it's possible to get around these concerns to provide the accountability that Congress and the American people require.

MARTÍNEZ: Considering, Colonel, that Ukrainians are trying to stay alive - they're battling for their country right now - is it reasonable to expect more assurances from Kyiv to prevent abuse? Is that something that maybe they can't necessarily guarantee right now, considering the state of the war?

CANCIAN: Well, certainly there's some limits to accountability of, you know, equipment gets destroyed. It, you know, goes to the front lines. And sometimes it's hard to track there. But the question isn't about whether every bullet on the front line is being used appropriately. The question is that none of the equipment is going outside of Ukraine, for example.

Nothing would be - or few things would be more damaging to sustaining bipartisan consensus than if, for instance, some of these anti-tank weapons showed up with Hezbollah because some Ukrainian decided to make some money on the side by selling the anti-tank weapons. So we can do that sort of tracking. Also, you know, a lot of the money goes directly to the Ukrainian government to support government operations. And that money, you know, goes to Kyiv. And I think it's reasonable there for pretty close accounting.

MARTÍNEZ: And how much of the money allocated for Ukraine actually winds up staying in the U.S. and goes into the pockets of weapons manufacturers? It seems like, you know, a lot of the money is going to defense industries who make rockets and shells and drones and things like that.

CANCIAN: There's about $18 billion of the funding - a total of $68 billion that's been appropriated so far - that goes to defense industry that is supposed to backfill inventories that have been sent to Ukraine and new production for Ukraine. So it's about a third, a quarter of the money goes to defense industry. There are a bunch of other uses on the military side. Also, about half the money in general goes to military purposes and half to humanitarian and economic purposes.

MARTÍNEZ: Mark Cancian is a retired Marine colonel and also senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies' International Security Program. Colonel, thanks.

CANCIAN: Thanks for having me on the show.