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The Biden administration and Ukrainian officials are issuing urgent appeals for Congress to provide military aid for Ukraine, with the White House saying the pot of funding is running dangerously low.
In a sign of how acute the threat is, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dispatched his No. 2 official to Washington this week for meetings at the White House and on Capitol Hill, pleading for aid requested by the president to be approved and delivered.
“We know how to achieve victory,” Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said during a speech at the Hudson Institute earlier this week.
“Meanwhile, we need weapons right now.”
“The overall timing of his visit was crucial,” said Hudson Institute senior fellow Luke Coffey. He added Yermak’s decision to deliver rare, in-person, English-language remarks at an “ideologically center-right” think tank in Washington, D.C., was deliberate.
“They know what’s happening on the Hill. They know about the debates,” he said.
While a majority of lawmakers in both parties support Ukraine in its defensive war against Russia, a minority of Republicans oppose more funding to Ukraine and have complicated efforts to move a package including $60 billion for Ukraine through Congress.
In September, the same minority successfully stripped Ukraine funding from a short-term government funding bill.
That was part of the opening salvo in the coup to oust former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), which then sent the GOP — and House business — into chaos for nearly a month.
New House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has backed an Israel-only supplemental package tied to cuts to the IRS, which Democrats oppose, while promising that addressing Ukraine funding is “next” on the agenda.
But it’s unclear when that might be, with the House this week passing another continuing resolution without Ukraine funding and the White House warning that the U.S. ability to supply Kyiv has nearly run dry.
“We are having to make tough decisions right now about the security assistance packages that we are providing to Ukraine, because we are coming near the end of the rope,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing with reporters Wednesday.
“The runway is getting shorter and shorter for our ability to support Ukraine in the manner in which we have been, and that funding is drying up.”
President Biden delivered to Congress on Oct. 20 his one-year supplemental request for military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, totaling $61.4 billion. That request includes $30 billion to replenish Department of Defense military stocks that are sent to Ukraine and $14.4 billion for “continued military, intelligence and other defense support.”
Yermak, in his speech, stressed that U.S.-provided equipment — from air defense to armored vehicles to artillery — is responsible for saving the lives of Ukrainian soldiers that are fighting so others don’t have to get involved.
“We [do] not ask, send your soldiers. We ask, continue to keep this support and we definitely, we obviously will win,” he said in his speech.
The Ukrainian president’s top adviser sought to demonstrate that Ukrainian forces were making significant, if slow gains in its counteroffensive, essentially pushing back on the assessment by Ukraine’s commander in chief, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, that the fighting had reached a stalemate.
“Against all odds, Ukraine’s defense forces have gained a foothold on the left bank of the Dnieper [river],” Yermak said, becoming the first senior Ukrainian official to confirm that Ukrainian forces had positioned themselves on territory viewed as key to further threatening Russia’s military occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and the base of its Black Sea Fleet.
“We have covered 70 percent of the distance, and our counteroffensive is [developing].”
Kyiv is acutely aware that economic assistance from the U.S. is a flashpoint in the debate, even among Ukraine’s supporters. Some pro-Ukraine lawmakers have made a distinction between providing military assistance, which they say is necessary to defeat Russia, but argue against financial assistance that they say is at greater risk of misuse.
Yermak sought to square the circle, pleading for more U.S. help in building up Ukraine’s air defense and in reopening a main airport, which could serve as a lifeline for reconstruction efforts and provide stability to encourage investment in Ukraine’s economy.
“We’re already working on these [with] our partners,” Yermak said of the airport. “It’s a sign … the turning point in the war is approaching. The next year will be decisive in this regard.”
Coffey singled out this revelation as “fascinating,” saying a functioning airport could scale up humanitarian deliveries and could help increase the number of visits from Western policymakers and supporters.
“This allows for a better understanding of what’s happening on the ground,” he said.
He said it was unlikely the airport would be used for military means, as it would make it a “legitimate target of war.”
The anxiety over America’s future support for the war extends well beyond Ukraine’s borders.
America’s allies abroad are also nervous over whether Congress can follow through on appropriating funds for Ukraine, with U.S. leadership viewed as the super glue holding together a coalition of an estimated 50 nations in supporting Kyiv.
U.S. and European officials reportedly have broached with Kyiv what possible peace talks with Russia could look like, bolstering fears in Europe that chaos in Washington could push Ukraine into premature negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Masud Gharahkhani, president of Norway’s parliament, the Storting, passed Yermak in the halls of Congress on Wednesday, while leading his own delegation to meet with House and Senate lawmakers over the importance of transatlantic cooperation on Ukraine.
Norway, a founding member of NATO, is a key partner in the alliance, keeping an eye on Russia’s nuclear posture in the Arctic.
“The most important part, if we do not support Ukraine, then we are telling authoritarian regimes like Russia, China, Iran and them, that it’s OK to just brutally invade and attack a country,” Gharahkhani told The Hill.
“So which country will be next? Then it will threaten our security in the future.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who met with Gharahkhani and the Norwegian delegation that day, said they expressed concern about the U.S. commitment to continued aid for Ukraine.
“They’re in the neighborhood of Russia. Yes, they are concerned,” he said. “They are a small country … I’m told they are making a rather large commitment to Ukraine. Yes, they want the world to stand together to defeat Putin’s aggression.”