Fearing that sending inspectors or other military personnel too deep into Ukraine and closer to the frontline may antagonize Russia and fuel a wider conflict, the Biden administration has so far resisted the pressure and bipartisan calls to get a clearer view of how American weapons are being handled by Kyiv.
Rumors say President Biden has been adamant about not allowing the US to tiptoe into a situation that Moscow might interpret as direct American involvement in the war.
However, as Rep. Mike Waltz – one of the US lawmakers pushing for increased oversight of weapons handed over to Ukraine – underscored, Kyiv’s transparency record is too poor to let American weapons out of sight.
Due to the State Department’s limited budget for weapons inspectors in Ukraine, which means every incoming shipment can be inspected, US observers have so far conducted only two in-person inspections since February, accounting for about 10% percent of the 22,000 US-provided weapons, including surface-to-air missiles Stingers and anti-tank missiles Javelin, that warrant improved oversight of the recipient nation.
Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters, several US officials confirmed that American specialists who are currently conducting weapons inspections are unarmed, but that would likely be untenable if they were sent closer to the front lines.
Although he claims that with the exception of sensitive technology, checkups are reportedly conducted when weapons are being transferred to Ukrainians, Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder also confirmed US inspections are conducted solely away from the frontline and where security conditions permit.
This verification in most cases takes place only at the point where weapons are taken into Ukrainian custody. When sensitive technology is transferred, the required surveillance is enhanced and includes tracking serial numbers and filing reports on-site.
US lawmakers, however, insist that the existing system is not good enough and that more regular inspections at inland depots and transfer points must be conducted – demanding that the State Department expands its roster of specialists to that purpose – arguing that Ukraine ranked quite low on global corruption indices before the war.
Rep. Waltz pointed out the US’s responsibility to have third-party oversight considering the volumes of goods it is pushing, noting that such practices are quite common even in countries that rank much higher on the corruption and transparency index than Ukraine.