U.S. Lawmakers Fear They’ve Already Emboldened Putin With Ukraine Aid Delay
On Sept. 30, House Republicans stripped out of a stopgap spending bill about $6 billion for arms to be sent to Ukraine in its battle against Russian invaders. In October, the White House came back with a much larger request to arm Ukraine, in addition to Israel and Taiwan, topping $100 billion overall.
President Joe Biden’s proposal has been held up by Republicans. And while it’s not impossible that a deal trading stricter U.S. asylum policy, sought by the GOP, in exchange for Ukraine aid can be worked out before Christmas, full passage is unlikely after House members left town for the holidays Thursday.
The chamber isn’t set to return to business until Jan. 9, meaning more aid — if it’s approved at all — will be delayed. And that delay, say some Ukraine hawks on Capitol Hill, could be almost as dangerous as failing to send aid at all.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), one of Ukraine’s most vocal defenders in the House, said the delay only incentivizes Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“It gives him an adrenaline shot, oh yeah,” Kaptur said. “All of this commotion here caused by — I’m sorry to say — isolationist Republicans is hurting the soldiers in theater in Ukraine right now. Putin is broadcasting all this chaos on Russian TV every day, 24/7. So what they are doing is aiding and abetting the enemy.”
Biden, appearing with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier in the week, said the delay in providing assistance was “the greatest Christmas gift they [Congress] could possibly give” to Putin.
Zelenskyy himself, in a speech to military officials at the National Defense University in Washington, made a similar pitch: “If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just Putin and his sick clique.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said the aid delay, combined with Putin’s near-open support for former President Donald Trump, is deeply worrying.
“Trump made that clear when he said, a couple of months ago at a CNN town hall, if he is president he’ll end the conflict in 24 hours,” Swalwell said. “To Putin, he receives that as, ‘Well, I’ve got the resources to grind this out, and I also know how to help Trump become president, because in [the election of] 2016 we interfered.’”
Trump has never revealed details of the secret plan he says would lead to a deal between Russia and Ukraine within 24 hours of winning the White House. But he has in the past said that he would be fine with letting Russia keep Ukrainian land, a condition that the Ukrainian government rejects.
In Russia, state television hosts often seen as spouting the government line have welcomed the aid delay.
“As of now, well done, Republicans. They’re standing firm,” said TV host Olga Skabeyeva. She went so far as to congratulate 81-year-old Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who had taken a stronger stance in favor of Ukraine but has since backed holding aid hostage for asylum changes, by saying, “Well done, Gramps!”
Putin himself was more circumspect in his year-end press conference, held Thursday. He said the aims for the war have not changed, and include demilitarizing Ukraine, ensuring its neutrality instead of seeing it join NATO, and “denazification” — or rooting out alleged Nazis in the Ukrainian government’s ranks, a premise that is widely seen as spurious.
“There will be peace when we will achieve our goals,” Putin said.
While Ukraine’s much-touted counteroffensive over the summer disappointed with only minimal territory gains, Russia’s attempt to increase the tempo of its operations in recent weeks has also failed to gain ground.
A declassified U.S. intelligence report said that Russia may have lost 13,000 troops in its attempt to claim the eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, and that its total losses of killed and wounded were around 315,000. Russia’s invading force in February 2022 started out with around 200,000 soldiers.
Russia has also stepped up its strikes against the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in recent days, with debris from one shot-down missile said to have injured 53 people on the ground.
Republicans on Capitol Hill blamed the White House for deciding to negotiate on asylum so late, or downplayed the impact of the aid delay.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said Ukraine is getting help from its European neighbors as well, not just the U.S.
“I’m not sure we’re quite as close to having exhausted our resources that we can direct there as we think,” he said.“The president needed to get serious earlier. They didn’t. And here we are.”
Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said that he was less concerned about what’s happening in Ukraine than he was with slowing the flow of migrants across the U.S. southern border.
“Go down there and talk to the people in South Texas who are dealing with thousands of people pouring across the border while the people in this building forsake them,” Roy said angrily, referring to the U.S. Capitol.
“Then come back and talk to me about Putin and Zelenskyy.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said the prospect of Trump winning the presidency again was enough to give Putin an incentive to wait out Ukraine and its allies, but he said that the delay should not be taken as a sign of weakness.
“Anybody who tries to draw conclusions from how long it takes Congress to act, he doesn’t know much about Congress,” Romney said.
“Ours has always been a slow process, and you can expect that to continue. But we typically get the job done when enough time is provided.”