With Congress preparing to go into recess for the holidays, it remained unclear Friday whether a new aid package for Ukraine would be agreed on before lawmakers leave Washington, a situation that has experts concerned about the Ukrainian armed forces’ ability to continue resisting Russia’s invasion.
The U.S. has already dedicated more than $100 billion to arming and supporting Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, and President Joe Biden has asked Congress to approve another $60 billion. However, Republicans in Congress have become increasingly skeptical about the need to continue underwriting Ukraine’s defense.
In recent weeks, Republicans in the Senate have conditioned approval of any additional money for Ukraine on the simultaneous strengthening of immigration rules aimed at reducing the number of people entering the United States at its southern border and expelling some who are already in the U.S.
The focus right now is on negotiations in the Senate, where a small group of lawmakers from the two parties, along with representatives from the Biden administration, are trying to hammer out an agreement that can gain enough support from both sides to protect it from that body’s various legislative pitfalls.
House wants more
Whether an agreement that can pass the Senate would survive in the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a very narrow majority, remains an open question. A significant cohort of Republican House members opposes additional aid to Ukraine, and the party has recently voted out a speaker of the House who partnered with Democrats to pass legislation.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, who took over after his predecessor Kevin McCarthy was ousted, has said that more funding for the border is essential to any Ukrainian aid package. However, he also wants more conditions placed on the aid.
“What the Biden administration seems to be asking for is billions of additional dollars with no appropriate oversight, no clear strategy to win, and none of the answers that I think the American people are owed,” he said this week.
Asked directly by VOA whether they believe that a Ukraine aid package can be passed before the end of the year, Republican lawmakers were doubtful.
“Look, obviously the negotiations, the conversations, are ongoing,” Representative Michael Lawler said Thursday. “But you know, we are slated to leave tomorrow. So, as of right now? No.”
EU aid blocked; Putin celebrates
Worries about continued U.S. funding for Ukraine sharpened Friday after another key source of support was shut down. With the European Union considering a package of aid worth $52 billion, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán used his veto to scuttle the plan.
Orbán’s vote came just a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly celebrated the fact that Ukraine appears to be losing support in the West.
“Ukraine today produces nearly nothing, they are trying to preserve something, but they don’t produce practically anything themselves and bring everything in for free,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “But the freebies may end at some point and apparently it’s coming to an end little by little.”
While opponents of aid to Ukraine often denigrate aid packages as being a “blank check” handed over to the Ukrainian government, most of the aid is in the form of military hardware. The dollar figures in the aid packages mostly represent money spent in the U.S. to pay arms manufacturers for the equipment the U.S. ships to Ukraine.
There is little doubt that a significant delay in additional funding from the U.S. would adversely impact Ukraine on the battlefield, but experts differed on the question of how long it would take before the effects become apparent.
“My current understanding is that there’s sufficient money remaining in the presidential drawdown authority for the Biden administration to continue sending arms to Ukraine for several more weeks, so into January,” said Nicholas Lokker, a research associate in the Center for a New American Security’s Transatlantic Security Program. “Once you start getting into January, the money is going to start running out.”
Lokker said that Ukraine is already experiencing shortages of artillery shells and air defense munitions, and that a cutoff or significant delay in aid from the U.S. would exacerbate those shortages.
Giving Russia time
Gian Gentile, a retired U.S. Army colonel and now a senior historian with the RAND Corporation, said that he thinks a delay in U.S. funding might take a little longer, perhaps months, to become apparent on the battlefield.
However, Gentile said, a significant delay, or a reduction in U.S. support, could have a major impact on the dynamics of the war.
“If it’s such an extended delay that Ukraine has to really pull back on the amount of artillery it’s using and goes completely on the defensive, that gives Russia time and space,” he told VOA. “If they’re taking fewer casualties, that allows the Russians to spend more time on training, rebuilding and getting ready for another offensive.”
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that, after two years of conflict, Russia has significantly transformed into a wartime economy, transitioning large amounts of productive capacity to the manufacture of arms and other military resources.
“So this delay, even if it’s a short amount of time, comes at a really bad time, based on the conditions in Russia right now, where they are increasing their production,” Gentile said.