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Securing Ukraine’s Strategic Assets Can Help End the War

Ukraine Russia
Russian T-90 Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The Biden Administration has struggled mightily in communicating its overall foreign policy strategy, meandering from one geopolitical crisis to the next. From ordering the chaotic 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan to redeploying U.S. troops to Somalia with no clear purpose to President Joe Biden fist-bumping Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman after framing the ideational struggle of our time as democracy versus autocracy, the White House has not explained how Washington’s foreign policies benefit America’s national interest. The war in Ukraine has been no different. 

Could the Biden Administration Have Done More?

While Russian President Vladimir Putin is ultimately responsible for the carnage unleashed in Ukraine, the Biden Administration did not provide sufficient support to Ukraine before the invasion to deter Russia’s attack, which would have saved tens of thousands of lives in Ukraine and billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds. 

The White House failed to deter the Kremlin’s aggression through a lack of support for Kyiv and gaffes from the U.S. president during the build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border. A U.S. envoy to Ukraine was not appointed until after Russia invaded Ukraine and any meaningful U.S. leverage against Moscow ended when the U.S. loosened sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and President Biden publicly stated U.S. responses toward Russia would be limited if the Kremlin conducted a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. 

The U.S. Has Sent Support but Exactly What Support has Yet Been Unclear

From the opening days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the White House has struggled to frame U.S. support for Kyiv in anything other than Manichean soundbites. During a March 26 speech in Warsaw, Poland, President Biden stated, “we emerged anew in the great battle for freedom: a battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression, between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force.” 

Questions are now mounting about the end goal of U.S. assistance to Ukraine. Is it to foment regime change in the Kremlin, after Biden stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power”? Or is it to arm Ukraine to defend itself against the Russian attack and mediate a negotiated political settlement between Moscow and Kyiv?     

Defending Democracy and Sovereignty Could Spread the U.S. Thin

America has already committed $40 billion in economic and security aid to Ukraine. As tensions with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) worsen, Washington may need to soon re-focus its attention toward the defense of Taiwan. Ukraine must therefore gird itself for the ongoing Russian onslaught, push for a ceasefire, and rebuild the country’s destroyed infrastructure.  

A political solution between Ukraine and Russia is needed and Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen, including Rinat Akhmetov, owner of Metinvest, Ukraine’s largest steel manufacturer, can play a role in helping rebuild Ukraine’s broken economy. Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak recently stated Akhmetov has been leading by example, but he cannot continue to operate his businesses if assets are continually stolen or destroyed by Russian forces. 

It is in the U.S.’ national interest, therefore, to prevent further pilfering of Ukrainian steel, grain, and other commodities by Russia’s military, so Ukraine’s private business sector can focus on efforts to stabilize Ukraine’s economy. Former U.S. Undersecretary of State James Glassman has called the theft of Ukraine’s strategic assets – steel, wheat, corn, and barley – “institutional piracy at a scale not seen since World War II.” 

Securing Resources Makes a Difference

First, preventing Russian forces from profiting from the looting of Kyiv’s strategic assets and holding Moscow accountable for the theft of Ukraine’s commodities is a foreign policy that benefits every American. Every dollar of profit from the sale and export of Ukrainian steel and grain on the free market should be considered one less U.S. taxpayer dollar sent to Kyiv in aid.  Furthermore, if Washington expects Russia’s advances through Ukraine to stall, the U.S. government cannot allow the Russian war machine to get fueled through the sale of Ukraine’s stolen strategic assets on the black market. 

Second, while world wheat and steel are currently priced lower than before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Glassman stated there is no doubt that the continued looting of Ukraine’s commodities will ultimately lead to global inflationary shocks. The Initiative for the Study of Russian Piracy (ISRP) estimates 11,000 metric tons of Ukrainian steel have been stolen by Russian forces, while another 28,000 metric tons has been loaded onto ships that are moored in Mariupol, waiting to be looted. 

While the White House has attempted to deflect from the catastrophic impact of the Biden Administration’s progressive climate policies on global energy prices, calling the rise at the fuel pump a “Putin Price Hike.” Russia’s pilfering of Ukraine’s grain and steel will actually turn into an inflationary shock that will raise the price of food and any new construction dependent on Kyiv’s steel. This will be the true “Putin price hike” impacting Americans, at a time when U.S. inflation has hit 40-year high levels. 

As former U.S. diplomat Suriya Jayanti has observed, “the problem underlying inflation currently is supply-side … and the war in Ukraine is wreaking havoc on supply chains.”  Ending Russia’s looting of Ukraine’s assets, therefore, will increase the global supply of these key commodities and curtail increasingly rising inflation. 

Finally, America must help Ukraine help itself, not only through the transfer of arms to help Ukraine’s military defense against the Russian invasion but by ensuring Ukraine’s economy can ultimately rebuild itself once the war ends. The only hope for helping Ukraine negotiate an optimal political settlement with Russia is by ensuring the sale of agricultural products and the export of strategic assets. 

Mariupol, Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen fire with a mortar at a position, as Russia’s attacks continue, at an unknown location in Kharkiv region, Ukraine May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Serhii Nuzhnenko

Moving forward, if the Biden Administration continues to dither in its attempts to pursue fruitful negotiations, Congress should take the lead to ensure Ukraine’s strategic assets are secured and that the profit from the sales of these commodities is used to reduce the commitment of U.S. taxpayers to fund Kyiv’s war effort. 

Future U.S. aid should be contingent upon agreements with Kyiv that Ukraine’s tax revenue generated through the sales of commodities will be used to bolster Washington’s continued support. Policies that Congress should consider include sanctions against both the Russian looters and black-market buyers of stolen Ukrainian commodities, asset seizures of construction, which used stolen Ukrainian steel, and support for reparations paid by Russia to Ukraine for any stolen assets already sold, which can then be used for Ukraine’s reconstruction, thus further easing the burden on U.S. taxpayers for such efforts. 

Darren Spinck is a research fellow at The Henry Jackson Society.

Written By

Darren Spinck is a research fellow at The Henry Jackson Society. Darren Spinck is managing partner of Washington Consulting Solutions, a full-service public affairs agency. In his role at Washington Consulting Solutions, Mr. Spinck focuses on policy analysis, strategic message development, and public advocacy programs for international clients seeking support with public diplomacy, reputation management, and crisis communications. Clients of Washington Consulting Solutions also benefit from Mr. Spinck’s key relationships with policymakers in Congress, key Senate/House committees, and decision influencers at leading Washington think tanks. In addition to policy analysis for his agency’s clients, Mr. Spinck has written public policy briefs for European think tanks including Croatia’s Institute for Development and International Relations (IRMO) and Ukraine’s Eastern Europe Security Institute (EESI).



  1. Gary Jacobs

    August 19, 2022 at 12:01 pm

    A lot of fair points raised here. That said, the idea that we cannot handle two fronts at the same time would make Ike and FDR roll over in their graves. The US needs to raise its game pretty close to WWII level mindset, and ramp up production of military hardware to support efforts against BOTH Russia and China. We have the regional allies in each theater to ensure we are not doing things alone…the grit and determination of the Ukrainians have shown what well motivated people can do with US+NATO support, and Taiwan is an especially tech savvy country with its own missiles that can reach Beijing. What each set of regional allies needs is the support of the US military and our industries… and it would be nice if we projected that strength consistently so it never has to be used again.

  2. cobo

    August 19, 2022 at 12:30 pm

    “Congress should take the lead to ensure Ukraine’s strategic assets are secured and that the profit…” not just grain but Crimea and all Ukrainian territory. From now on, when the US military and its friends go to work, we keep what gets taken and nobody takes anything from the US and its allies, period. War should be profitable.

  3. Steven

    August 19, 2022 at 1:12 pm

    Yeah, The American people overwhelming voted for this fraud in the White House….riiiight….

  4. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    August 19, 2022 at 1:55 pm

    Dementia Joe struggles to pee or hold a fork – the fact his administration has “struggled” to do anything is hardly surprising.
    Our national nightmare continues…

  5. 404Forbidden

    August 19, 2022 at 4:56 pm

    Current ukro-russian conflict story by Biden and co is a horrendously false narrative that completely dumbs the human mind (hey, guys, we’re in 21st century today !) and makes a total mockery of our whole world’s advanced civilized society up to date.

    The CIA was in ukro territory helping right sector guys, Azov battalions and other nazist groups to kill and maim ethnic-russians in Donbass region right after illegal US-initiated Feb 2014 coup.

    The Donbass natives fought back, suffering many losses but also scoring a few vital wins, leading to trench warfare by the US-backed ukro Army nationalists.

    The ukro trench warfare allowed well-equipped neo-nazi units to take regular potshots at the Donbass natives, killing civilians at will and greatly disrupting daily life.

    Long story short, Putin was totally pissed off by them and by the goebbellian statements and hitlerian actions from Biden (and his sidekick stoltenberg) and on Feb 24 2022, Putin launched his ‘special operation’.

    The western media including BBC & Reuters keep calling it unprovoked, never mind that US-NATO had previously helped religious terror outfit KLA to take Kosovo in total defiance of international diplomacy.

    This US-proxy ukro-russian war will inevitably end in nuke exchange with US giving up after the last Ukrainian citizen has been confirmed to have dropped dead.

    Thanks, Biden !Thanks, BBC !

  6. marcjf

    August 20, 2022 at 3:30 am

    Most of the industrial base and the majority of Ukraine’s coal and gas fields have already been lost, along with a around 20% of the population. If the RF manage to advance and take Odessa Ukraine will lose its offshore gas and oil fields along with more industry, population and a large part of its agricultural heartland. Battlefield success or not will determine the economic contours of Ukraine after the shooting stops. At present Russia is taking and looks no sign of losing the key heights of the Ukraine economy.

    The Ukrainian economy according to its own central bank is now totally reliant on external $ support – perhaps to the tune of $5B to $10B per month. Doable but not a small sum either. But it will now take decades for the Ukraine economy to recover, and it was never that strong in the first place, rivalling Russia for corruption and reliance on basic exports of raw materials and food.

  7. Gary Jacobs

    August 20, 2022 at 11:20 am

    to Marcjf – LoL, the idea of Russia taking Odessa is long since dead as so many thousands of Russian soldiers are. At this point the Russian invaders would be extremely luck to hang onto Kherson, and I expect them to lose that by next spring, if not sooner. They have been cut off from major resupply and should have a terrible time with the harsh winter.

    As well, The Russian Black Sea Fleet has proved to be extremely vulnerable. Russians lost the Moskva, they lost Snake Island, and now Ukraine is attacking them on Crimea…and you still think they can take Odessa? Hahaha… you clearly live in some kind of fantasy world. Back in the real world, the Neptune and Harpoon anti-ship missiles Ukraine has will ensure there wont be any Amphib landing.

    As well, all one has to do is look at a map of where the Ukrainians stopped the Russian advance on Mykolaiv, then track the Russian retreat south all the way to Oleksandrivka in Kherson Oblast along the Buh River to know how much the Russians have lost. They are now fighting for Stanislav.

    All the Russians really have left is to launch missiles at civilian areas to terrorize people in Ukrainian cities far from the front…as well as use army level combined arms with thermobaric weapons on small towns like Pisky to level them until there is nothing left and then roll troops in to claim the area has been’liberated’. The Russians are proving to be a pathetic spent force, and I urge the US to give the Ukrainians more and longer range weapons to press their advantage to drive the Russians out and obliterate as much of their terrorist army as possible in the process.
    Have a nice day.

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