Event Highlight

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch Discusses War in Ukraine and Military Aid Package

By Marcus Tonti
Posted May 17 2024
Marie Yovanovitch

Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch joined an IGP roundtable on April 18 to discuss the current state of the Russia-Ukraine war, US military aid, and Russian disinformation with interested students.

After months of negotiations and debate on Capitol Hill, President Biden signed into law on April 24 a foreign aid package that will provide almost $61 billion in critical military and other assistance to Ukraine. (Another $34 billion will go to other US allies.) 

The package, which had been delayed for several months, comes at a dire time for Ukraine in its war against Russia, as Ukrainian forces struggle to hold the front lines amid weapon and ammunition shortages and Russian advances in the east. The first deliveries of US weapons – which included $1 billion in vehicles, air defense munitions, and ammunition for rocket systems – were expected to reach the battlefront within days of the legislation’s passage. The assistance will help the Ukrainian military slow Russian gains and better protect infrastructure. 

“Given everything that’s happened, what Ukraine needs right now is space and time, and this package gives them that,” said Yovanovitch. “It buys the Ukrainian military space and time to reorganize, re-arm, retrain, build strong defenses, and think about how they can put together a counter-offensive in 2025.”

Marie Yovanovitch book "Lessons From the Edge"

Yovanovitch is a Carnegie Distinguished Fellow at IGP and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She is also the author of a New York Times best-selling memoir, Lessons from the Edge.

Yovanovitch, who was appointed by President Trump in 2016 and served until 2019, stressed that deterring Russian aggression and supporting Ukraine is important to US national security. Otherwise, she said, Russia risks upsetting global stability and the international rules-based order. 

Referring to the long and acrimonious delay in passing the assistance bill, she said: 

“It’s about the signals that we are sending out to our adversaries and, perhaps more importantly, to our allies, who are looking at the Ukraine case and wondering if we are a steadfast ally…They are wondering if they can count on our support if they need it in the future.”

With no end in sight and western support for Ukraine wavering, calls for a negotiated ceasefire have grown. But peace talks are unlikely, as neither side appears ready to negotiate yet according to the ambassador. Ukraine, however, is taking steps to prepare, including by participating in the upcoming Peace Summit hosted by Switzerland in mid-June. 

Yovanovitch said that Russia “has the upper hand at this particular moment” due to recent advances on the battlefield.

“Facts matter, the situation on the ground matters, the fact that we are divided in Washington matters. All of these things have input into negotiations,” she said, adding that the Russians are eagerly awaiting the results of the 2024 U.S. presidential election, and have made it clear they’re not going to negotiate until after November. “They think they have momentum now, and they think they can keep on going and they're hoping that we cannot get our act together in the United States to provide what Ukraine needs to fight back.”

She spoke about Russian disinformation and its threat to international security and democracy. Putin aides and Russian military intelligence agencies are using online disinformation campaigns to influence the U.S. conversation on aid to Ukraine. 

“They're just trying to confuse us so that we give up knowing what the truth is. And that is a very dangerous thing,” Yovanovitch said. 

Later in the discussion, Yovanovitch touched on another war the Ukrainian people are facing: the battle against Ukraine’s reputation for corruption since the fall of the Soviet Union. Yovanovitch said that some progress has been made on anticorruption efforts in the country, but there’s still a long way to go. In the two years since the war began, Ukraine’s defense minister, top prosecutor, and intelligence chief were all ousted in corruption scandals. 

“The Ukrainian people, the soldiers on the frontlines – they know why they are fighting, and it’s not to make oligarchs rich again, or corrupt generals rich for the first time. They’re fighting for their families and the future,” she said.