View from Washington: Will Congress vote massive aid to Ukraine?

10:31 07.12.2023 •

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson.
Photo: AP

There will be no additional funding for Ukraine without first making extensive reforms to the U.S. immigration system, House Speaker Mike Johnson told President Biden, FoxNews informs.

Johnson issued the ultimatum in a Tuesday letter to the White House. Biden and Democrats had pushed for months to provide additional funding for Ukraine's war effort amid dwindling Republican support for the issue. With immigration being an even more divisive issue for Congress, Johnson's declaration is a major blow to the prospect of further aid to Kyiv.

Johnson's letter says Ukraine aid is "dependent upon enactment of transformative change to our nation's border security laws."

The message came in response to a Monday letter from the White House. Penned by Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, it warned that the U.S. would run out of Ukraine aid funding by the end of 2023.

The U.S. has already contributed well over $100 billion to Ukraine's war effort since Russia invaded the country in February 2022. Republicans have increasingly questioned why that money isn't being spent at home, however.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks to media.
Photo: AP

Tempers boiled over during a classified Senate briefing on Ukraine on Tuesday afternoon, when Republican senators insisted on talking about security along the U.S.-Mexico border while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and military officials tried to keep the discussion focused on the war, writes The Hill.  

Schumer accused Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) of attempting to hijack the meeting on Ukraine’s defense needs to have an unrelated conversation on border security.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was scheduled to attend the briefing via a secure video conference call but canceled his appearance shortly before the meeting.

The discussion got so heated that, at one point, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) were shouting questions at the senior Biden administration officials in the room, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Charles Q. Brown Jr. 

“I took them on with the microphone in my hand,” Cramer later told reporters after the heated discussion.

“I asked Gen. Brown his best military advice. Is supporting Ukraine and Israel important enough that Democrats could at least consider reluctantly supporting some southern border security? He wanted to talk about Ukraine,” he said.

Cramer said Schumer went “nuts” when he insisted that the general convince Democrats that the war in Ukraine is a vital enough national security interest to justify them making concessions on immigration and asylum reform.

Schumer accused his colleagues of acting disrespectfully toward senior military officials.

“One of them started — was disrespectful — and started screaming at one of the generals and challenging him why he didn’t go to the border,” Schumer said.

And he slammed McConnell for turning the briefing into a partisan food fight over immigration policy instead of a factual analysis of Ukraine’s ability to hold off a Russian invasion without additional U.S. military aid.

Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) said GOP senators were frustrated that the briefing was not more focused on the national security threat posed by the surge of migrants across the southern border. 

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addresses reporters.
Photo: The Hill

Will Congress vote more money for Ukraine? The Biden administration is asking for a massive $61.4 billion. $30 billion will buy arms for Ukraine and some undisclosed part of it will be used to replenish US war stocks. $14.4 billion is needed, supposedly, to support US intelligence and defense support, meaning paying for US operations supporting the war both inside and outside Ukraine. $16.3 billion is basically handing wads of cash to keep the Ukrainian government running, paying salaries and pensions, and for "security assistance" whatever that means, Finally, $481 million is to fund Ukrainians who have escaped to the United States. Each of these should have been separate proposals, but Biden thought he could turn the trick of the full Monty by linking Ukraine aid to Israeli assistance. (Israel gets four time less than Ukraine in the proposal.)

These amounts, even if the war was going well, are unaffordable (unless bankrupting America is the goal), stresses Stephen Bryen, a former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense and is a leading expert in security strategy and technology.

But now the situation on the ground has changed a lot, and there is a broad consensus in the Pentagon and at NATO ("Be prepared for Bad News" says the NATO head) that under the best circumstances the war is a stalemate, and under the worst, Ukraine is losing the war.

There are some who cry that Ukraine does not have everything it needs to win. But Ukraine has received massive amounts of weapons, resulting in the reduction of war stocks in the United States and Europe, to dangerously low levels. It seems Washington could care less, but it should. A weak US and an even weaker NATO leads to exactly the threat the US says it is avoiding by sponsoring the Ukraine war -namely it encourages our adversaries to take advantage and attack (whether in Europe, or Asia, or the Middle East does not matter, as it could be any or all of them).

Meanwhile, Congress is being told that if they don't cough up the money, Ukraine will not be able to stay in the fight.

But Ukraine is suffering from much more than any shortage of weapons. It is short on manpower. The latest (rather draconian) recruiting drive in Ukraine only met 8% of its recruiting goal, and probably less. Ukrainians no longer want to fight, that is clear. Ukraine went out and hired non-Ukrainian "recruiters" (so far these outsiders names have not been disclosed), mostly because the life of the state-financed recruiters was threatened. Making matters worse, Zelensky fired a bunch of them for corruption (taking bribes to pass over certain recruitment candidates). Anyone under the age of 70 can be pulled into the army, involuntarily. What kind of fighters do you think these are?

Worse still, Ukraine has passed three laws of note. The first law prohibits the teaching or use of the Russian language in Ukraine. The second law expands the eligible recruiting age and now includes women. The third law says there will be no elections under martial law, and even after martial law ends after the war is over, no elections for another six months. The law applies to Presidential elections. Parliamentary elections are also suspended. It is now impossible to argue there is anything remotely democratic about Ukraine.

Making matters worse, Ukraine has launched an unprecedented attack on the Russian Orthodox church, seized church properties, and arrested church leaders. Recently a leader of the Orthodox Church has been sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and the confiscation of property for various supposed crimes against the state.

Meanwhile Metropolitan Pavel of Vyshgorod, the abbot of the Kiev Caves Lavra was held under house arrest after being briefly jailed. (This is an old Communist tactic. It was employed by the Polish Communist government against leading Roman Catholic clergy. We complained about it when the Polish Communists did it, but Washington today is silent, and therefore complicit.)

Ukraine's government also is openly in a power struggle. Numerous confirmed reports say that Zelensky is trying to sideline General Valerii Zaluzhny who is the overall commander of Ukraine's military. Recently Zaluzhny's top military aid was blown up by a hand grenade. The police say it was an accident. In the midst of a power struggle, the accident story is heavily discounted. Meanwhile, Zelensky has been removing important generals linked to Zaluzhny.

It isn't the only crack in Kyiv as criticism of Zelensky is coming from different quarters. Even the mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, has lined up with Zaluzhny.

On the battlefield the Russians continue to advance in almost all sectors, although the weather in Ukraine, freezing with snowfall, may temporarily halt Russia's military advances. In Moscow, President Putin has announced that the Russian army will be enlarged. Russia will add an additional 170,000 troops, bringing the total force to 1.32 million soldiers. The Russian army includes both conscripts and contract soldiers. Contract soldiers are paid volunteers, similar to the US AFV (All Volunteer Force). Russia's Defense Ministry says that the expansion does not imply any increase in conscripted soldiers.  Russia has also commissioned new army training centers.

Given the turmoil in Kyiv and the significant battlefield losses on the Ukrainian side (of course there are heavy Russian losses too), ramping up even more military aid to Ukraine is a risky proposition. Despite wishful thinking in the US and NATO there is no sign that Russia won't continue to pursue the war full throttle.

In contemplating the Biden administration request, it might make sense for Congress to put aid to Ukraine on a short string, say three months at most. By that time the political and military situation may clarify, Stephen Bryen concludes.


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