Uncertainty looms over U.S. aid for Ukraine as government shutdown averted

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2nd October 2023 – (Washington) The future of US aid for Ukraine hangs in the balance following a last-minute deal to avoid a government shutdown, despite President Joe Biden’s assurances to Kyiv that it will receive the support it needs to combat Russia. Just days after President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington to appeal for additional funds, a compromise reached in Congress on Sunday excluded new funding for Ukraine due to opposition from hardline Republicans.

Biden and his Democratic party argue that the United States has a moral obligation to assist Ukraine in standing up against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive invasion. They warn that a failure to do so could empower other autocratic leaders in the future. However, the issue has become highly politicised in Washington, putting vital military aid at risk at a time when Kyiv is striving to make progress in its slow counteroffensive before the onset of winter.

On Sunday, Biden urged Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to “stop the games” and expressed his expectation for the passage of a separate bill for Ukraine funding in the near future. In an address from the White House, Biden reassured American allies, the American people, and the people of Ukraine that they can rely on US support, emphasizing that the United States will not abandon them.

Ukraine downplayed the setback, stating that it is actively working with its American partners to ensure the provision of new wartime aid. However, analyst Brett Bruen warns that the broader message being sent to the world—that not only Republicans but also some Democrats are willing to sacrifice Ukraine for political reasons—has damaging implications. Bruen, president of the Global Situation Room consultancy and a former U.S. diplomat, suggests that this development should worry leaders in Kyiv, while Moscow may view it as a cause for celebration.

Ukraine is already apprehensive about the possibility of former Republican President Donald Trump’s return to the White House, as he has previously expressed admiration for Putin. Prominent House Democrats have announced their expectation that McCarthy will bring a separate Ukraine aid bill to a vote next week, though the amount may not reach the initial $24 billion sought by Biden.

However, achieving this outcome may prove challenging. First, there is a push by hardline Republican Matt Gaetz to remove McCarthy from his position next week. Gaetz is part of a group of staunch right-wing Republicans who vehemently oppose providing further aid to Ukraine. Even if McCarthy manages to retain his position, he made it clear on Sunday that he would insist on funding to address the issue of immigration along the Mexican border, a key demand of the Republicans.

Another significant obstacle is war fatigue. Scepticism surrounding aid for Ukraine is not limited to hardline Republicans but extends to more moderate lawmakers who are reluctant to offer Ukraine a “blank check.” Moreover, inflation-weary American voters share similar concerns about providing support to Ukraine. A recent ABC/Washington Post poll conducted on 24th September revealed that 41% of respondents believed that the United States was doing too much to assist Ukraine, up from 33% in February and a mere 14% in April 2022.

Complicating matters further is a Republican impeachment inquiry into President Biden over his son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine. The Biden administration’s argument is straightforward: if Russia is not halted in Ukraine, the rest of the world could be at risk. U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin urged Congress to honour America’s commitment to provide urgently needed assistance to the people of Ukraine as they fight against the forces of tyranny.

Analyst Brett Bruen believes that even a temporary delay in Ukraine’s funding provides a significant boost to its detractors, which could have long-term repercussions. The situation remains uncertain, and the fate of U.S. aid for Ukraine hangs precariously amid the complex political landscape in Washington.