US-Ukraine aid: Cash will not change the battlefield situation

11:51 13.12.2023 •

President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Capitol on Tuesday with Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell.
Photo: The New York Times

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine hit a brick wall of resistance from Senate Republicans on Tuesday as he made an urgent plea for quick approval of more aid for his country’s war against Russian invaders, an inauspicious start to a day of meetings on Capitol Hill and at the White House.

Mr. Zelensky told the lawmakers in a private meeting that more American help was critical to his fight and to holding back further Russian advances into Europe, but several Republicans emerged from a meeting with him unmoved, informs The New York Times. They reiterated their stance that they would not agree to any new aid for Ukraine unless President Biden and Democrats bowed to their demands to clamp down on migration at the southern border of the United States.

During the private meeting in the Capitol, a number of G.O.P. senators told Mr. Zelensky directly that securing the U.S. border with Mexico was key to unlocking aid for his nation.

“I told President Zelensky, ‘Here’s the problem: It’s got nothing to do with you,’” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told reporters after the session.

“I said: ‘You’ve done everything anybody could ask of you. This is not your problem here,’” Mr. Graham continued. Instead, he blamed the Biden administration for having “made policy choices for three years to lead to a nightmare on the border.”

Mr. Zelensky met with Speaker Mike Johnson, who has also opposed aid to Ukraine.

Republican resistance to helping Ukraine has steadily grown on Capitol Hill, and the star power Mr. Zelensky once enjoyed there has faded considerably. Tuesday’s tableau is a stark change from the scene that played out when Mr. Zelensky first visited the Capitol a year ago, when he was largely hailed by lawmakers as a hero. They invited him to address a joint meeting of Congress and capped off his trip by approving nearly $50 billion to arm and aid his nation. This time, Mr. Zelensky made no public statement at all at the Capitol, bypassing reporters who had gathered expecting to hear from him.

Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, one of the most vocal critics in the Senate of Ukraine aid, called Mr. Zelensky’s trip to Congress “grotesque.” “He’s coming to the United States of America, lecturing us, and demanding more American taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Vance said on Fox News on Monday night.

Speaker Johnson’s remarks again made clear that Republicans in Congress will condition any aid for Ukraine on changes at the U.S.-Mexico border. “The border is an absolute catastrophe. And this is because of the policies of this White House of this administration,” Johnson said. “The American people see this. They feel it acutely. They see all the terrible societal ills that come from this, and it must be addressed.”

Zelensky failed to tell senators much of anything new, Senator Eric Schmitt, Republican of Missouri, said after the closed-door meeting. “It’s the same old stuff. There’s nothing new,” Schmitt said, complaining that questions seemed scripted.

Schmitt also complained that senators were hearing from Zelensky about Ukraine instead of Biden.

“We’re hearing from the president of Ukraine again, but we’ve yet to hear from our own president about the border, our border,” he said.

Just hours after Zelensky came to the Capitol to issue another urgent plea for aid, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said Congress would most likely punt consideration of it until next year. “It is practically impossible” for Congress to pass a bill on Ukraine and border security before the holidays, McConnell said.

Congressional leaders are toying with the idea of trying to keep Congress in session next week to keep trying to hash out a deal on Ukraine funding and border security measures — but it is unclear if another few days will be enough time to strike such a bargain.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, said on the floor that he called House Speaker Mike Johnson last night to urge him to keep the House in session, to give negotiators time to keep working out a compromise.

But many Republicans are skeptical that negotiators would be able to resolve before the holidays an impasse over detention and asylum policies, without which they have vowed Ukraine funds will not be approved.

Seated alongside Zelensky in the Oval Office, Biden opens his meeting by saying “we stand at a real inflection point in history.” Biden adds: “Congress needs to pass the supplemental funds” to provide more aid to Ukraine.

President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelensky met in the Oval Office.
Photo: The New York Times

Congress will end up forking over billions more for Ukraine, but no matter how many dollars are thrown at the problem it is unlikely to change the battlefield scenario that is unfolding, writes Stephen Bryen, a former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense and is a leading expert in security strategy and technology.

President Joe Biden is pushing hard for more Ukraine money and resisting (at least so far) Republican efforts to put strong border security provisions into the aid bill.  There are negotiations between the White House and Republicans on the border issue, but so far there is no breakthrough. It looks more and more as if Biden will try and stonewall the Republicans and get his Ukraine money without strings.

That helps explain why Biden has invited Volodomir Zelensky to Washington. Zelensky just attended the inauguration for Argentina's new president, Javier Milei.

The White House may be right.  Republicans are somewhat divided on aid to Ukraine although united on wanting to close the southern border. But the Republicans have already folded on almost everything they wanted in the National Defense Authorization Act and are likely to fold on Ukraine aid because they face being attacked for selling out the Ukrainians or even forcing a war with Russia in Europe, as Biden and Lloyd Austin, the Secretary of Defense, assert.

In Ukraine Russian forces are gaining ground in key battles around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Bohdanivika, Marinka and Novomikhailovka. While the Russians appear able to reinforce their troops as necessary, it has become far more difficult for Ukraine to do this because Russian artillery can hit rotation areas in many cases, and Ukraine has fewer soldiers to throw into the multiple battles happening in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.


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