Ukraine Funding Fight Stokes New Fears Over US Reliability

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(Bloomberg) -- The latest jockeying between President Joe Biden and Republicans in Congress over Ukraine aid is fueling fresh concerns over Washington’s commitment to support Kyiv’s fight against Russia as the 2024 US election nears.

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On Wednesday, Biden accused Republicans of “playing chicken with our national security” as he delivered a speech, again urging them to approve $106 billion to support Ukraine and Israel. It was a message intended to heighten the urgency around US support, which could run out in the coming months and leave Ukraine without crucial munitions to repel Russian forces.

“Republicans in Congress are willing to give Putin the greatest gift you could hope for and abandon our global leadership, not in just Ukraine but beyond that,” Biden said, referring to the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.

Biden’s speech presents a gamble. By highlighting the urgency of congressional passage, the president was also drawing renewed scrutiny to the obstacles — unimaginable a few months ago — that US leaders will face in helping Ukraine. Hours after Biden’s televised appeal, the Democrat-controlled Senate failed in its own gambit as Republicans blocked $66 billion in emergency Ukraine aid.

The US infighting may fan fears in European and Asian capitals looking to US leadership and support amid more aggressive Russian and Chinese actions. For some observers, tying domestic political demands to a pressing foreign policy priority sets a disturbing precedent — especially when the US is ostensibly supporting a democracy against an aggressor that seeks to undermine American influence.

“There will be a sense of shock across the world for anyone that relies on US security guarantees — Tokyo, Seoul, Canberra, let alone Taipei — that you just can’t rely on these Americans because they’re not serious,” said Max Bergmann, a Russia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former US official.

Earlier: Zelenskiy Assures G-7 Fight Will Go On Even Amid Doubts on Aid

He said the political clash “is potentially hamstringing US foreign policy support for Ukraine but also general American reliability for allies and partners around the world.”

Biden spoke a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy abruptly canceled plans to address the US Senate via video conference, wary of inserting himself into a domestic political squabble. In a Wednesday video address to Group of Seven leaders, including Biden, the Ukrainian leader warned that Putin was betting on waning support as the US prepares to vote in presidential elections next year.

“Russia hopes only for one thing – that next year the free world’s consolidation will collapse,” Zelenskiy said.

As the war drags on, the share of Americans who say the US is providing too much assistance to Ukraine has gradually increased, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Concerns about the reliability of the US are likely only going to deepen as campaigning gains steam, with former president Donald Trump already emerging as the Republican frontrunner after a term in office spent upending foreign-policy norms, including with threats to withdraw support from NATO and praising Putin.

In a sign of the continued Western failure to fully isolate the Russian leader with sanctions and war crimes allegations, Putin made a rare foreign trip, traveling to the Persian Gulf and meeting on Wednesday with leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

While Ukrainians may run out of the munitions required to maintain adequate air and missile defense, the immediate effects of a funding lapse “would be only modest on the ground,” because neither Russia nor Ukraine is able to mount a major offensive in the near term, according to Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Even so, substantial delays would impede preparations for any offensive in the spring or summer, “while signaling to Putin that he can wait us out,” he said.

Read More: Putin Meets Saudi Crown Prince on Rare Trip to Shore Up Ties

Some European officials are clearly worried about the US commitment, and are urging Washington lawmakers to hold the course and not abandon Ukraine in a fight it likely can’t win on its own. “I don’t want to see a second Afghanistan,” Jadwiga Emilewicz, a former deputy prime minister of Poland who now liaises between Warsaw and Kyiv, told Bloomberg.

Some are optimistic about enduring US support for a war that has reshaped Europe, including in the Baltic states that most fear Russian aggression.

Latvian Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rihards Kols, who met administration officials and members of Congress in Washington this week, said he believes Ukraine will ultimately get more aid. He praised the Ukrainian counteroffensive, saying it was a “miracle given Ukraine’s resources,” but issued a warning to the US that Putin was resisting Western pressure and digging in for a long fight.

“Russia is improving its military capabilities despite sanctions,” he said in an interview. “It’s effectively adopted a war budget, signaling that it’s there for a long-term confrontation in Ukraine.”

Earlier: Ukraine Aid Blocked by Senate Republicans Over Immigration Clash

Even as some Republicans indicated that Biden’s latest remarks offered a way out, given his offer to compromise on some demands, others have remained defiant.

“If you want to get a deal to help Ukraine, you’ve got to help America,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said on Tuesday. “We will not have a deal to help another country until we secure our border.”

--With assistance from Peter Martin and Daniel Flatley.

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