Aggressive aid plan for Kiev advanced by Republicans. What conditions they put on Ukraine
US Republicans have launched a two-pronged campaign to pressure the Biden administration in the coming months to send more advanced weapons to Ukraine, including some that the president has been reluctant to provide so far, but their efforts are contingent on more and faster progress by the Ukrainians on the battlefield. Why? Polls in the United States indicate waning support for the effort to arm Ukraine, especially among US Republicans.
A two-pronged plan
The first part of the two-pronged campaign is to hold closed-door meetings to present classified information to Congress. This gives lawmakers a chance to get a clearer and more detailed picture of what’s happening on the battlefront in Eastern Europe. As was, for example, a recent classified briefing held in the Senate Armed Services Committee that included Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, and William LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, according to information from two sources with direct knowledge of current discussions within the Republican leadership.
The second part is a campaign aimed at the public to ask President Joe Biden to provide equipment such as Grey Eagle drones and the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, which would help Ukraine hit Russian artillery batteries that continually fire missiles at Ukrainian positions. Kiev has requested ATACMS systems since the start of the war, but requests have intensified as the United States has approved other equipment it has previously resisted, such as M-1 Abrams tanks. Thirty-one of the armoured vehicles were recently promised by Biden. Their actual delivery to Ukraine will begin no sooner than the end of this year.
In this context, it should be remembered that the US has given Ukraine more security assistance than any other country – more than $27 billion – since Russia invaded last February. In addition to Abrams tanks, this aid includes weapons and equipment such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, the HIMARS missile system, drones, howitzers and more than a million artillery shells and the Patriot missile system.
According to Defense One, the public part of the Republican campaign could take a variety of forms. Virtually every House and Senate Armed Services Committee hearing offers opportunities for comment, the two sources said. Congressmen could also talk about the issue during speeches and media engagements.
Last week, in a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Roger Wicker (Missouri) made the case for granting Ukraine ATACMS and Grey Eagle and Reaper drones. „We should deliver these assets quickly to make an immediate difference on the battlefield. Working with our allies, this more, better, faster approach would give the Ukrainians a real chance of victory,” he said. The congressman doubled down on his message last Friday, saying that the latest aid package for Ukraine is nothing more than „the same slow, futile march that got us to this point.”
For his part, Congressman Mike Rogers (Alabama), the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also publicly signaled support for sending ATACMS systems to Ukraine.
Analysts argue that with their recent messaging, Republicans on key national security committees are trying to show that they not only support Ukraine, but will do so with more enthusiasm than Democrats and the White House.
As Rebeccah Heinrichs, a fellow at the Hudson Institute think tank, explained, „If you look at the plethora of arguments that people like Senator Wicker and Congressman Rogers and all of them, and even Senator (Tom) Cotton – they’re arguing that the way to end the war is to accelerate the delivery of these weapons to allow Ukraine to get a foothold on the front lines. That’s the argument they’re making: if you want to end the war, that’s the way to do it.”
Experts are unanimous in saying that US aid to Ukraine has been vital. „It is not an exaggeration to say that the military assistance provided by the US since February has prevented Ukraine’s capitulation. American weapons, training and intelligence helped Ukraine turn the tide against Russian forces and galvanised European support, while sanctions severely constrained Russia’s economy and defence industry,” said Sean Monaghan, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who previously worked at the UK Ministry of Defence.
How the Americans will be convinced
But the Republicans’ plans are not easy to put into practice. To sell the war further to the American people, Republicans will be less likely to insist on Biden’s views on democracy and international order. Experts expect the GOP to focus more on weapons and their costs, while maintaining a sufficient defense budget and protecting the US arsenal – significantly reduced by arms deliveries to Ukraine – to deter China.
„There is no coverage from the administration explaining why this is important without being able to talk about ‘rules-based policing’ – which just isn’t convincing to ordinary Americans,” one source told Defense One.
For example, the publication writes, Republicans will continue to challenge some of the Biden administration’s key assertions, notably that the US military industrial base can support both the Ukraine support effort and the mission to prevent China from invading Taiwan in the next five years. Democratic administration assurances that Ukraine’s military buildup does not undermine US military readiness are unconvincing, they said. „There will be renewed and continued focus on China, Taiwan and the defense industrial base. And there is no doubt that rebuilding the defense industrial base is a big part of the situation around Ukraine.”
Republicans will also focus more on accounting for aid packages. This especially in light of controversial military aid spending in past conflicts, particularly in Afghanistan, sources said. More than $2.313 trillion was spent on military operations in Afghanistan between 2001-2021, including tens of billions of dollars to equip, train and prepare Afghan defense forces, which collapsed miserably in the face of the Taliban offensive two summers ago.
The Defense Department’s inspector general recently announced new operations to account for and track aid distributed in Ukraine. The effort is important.
First, the sources said that so far the story about tracking and managing weapons is primarily a „good” one for Ukraine, which has moved quickly to remove officials accused of corruption. Also, the additional scrutiny announced by Washington officials could reassure American voters who perceive Ukraine as inherently corrupt, Heinrichs said.
Skeptics in Congress
In addition, efforts to account for military and financial aid sent to Kiev have the gift of calming the concerns of some American politicians, who continue to raise objections to the tens of billions the Washington administration is pumping into Ukraine that cannot be effectively monitored.
For example, some members of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives openly question US support for Ukraine. These include Matt Gaetz (Florida) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia), considered to be part of the party’s populist wing, as well as party leaders.
For their part, some Democrats also oppose the US administration’s efforts to send military aid to Ukraine. Heinrichs said that while the Republican Party’s populist contingent is relatively small, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which has also expressed skepticism about continued efforts to support Ukraine, is much larger and could ally with populist Republicans on the issue.
The expert referred to the letter sent by 30 progressive members of the House of Representatives last summer, in which they urged Biden to engage in direct talks with Russia to end the war. The Progressives later withdrew the letter, but analysts believe this was not necessarily because they changed their minds or had a different opinion, but simply because they bowed to pressure from party leaders worried that the efforts of the party’s radical wing would complicate Team Biden’s Ukraine strategy and undermine his standing not only domestically but also with international allies.
„After having their letter rejected, the Progressive Caucus has calmed down because of the midterm elections … This is a pretty serious faction of the Democratic Party. I think it’s something we haven’t come across: how they’re going to move forward on the Ukraine issue now that we’re past the elections. I mean, they’re much closer to the populist wing [of the Republicans] than they are to anybody else,” the expert said.
Defense One believes that despite this, the growing resistance from both the far left and the far right in Washington may actually be a gift to those who want to accelerate aid to Ukraine now, while it is still politically feasible to do so. Aid control will be stepped up, however. As Michael McCaul (Texas), Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, „This House Republican majority will demand more oversight, transparency and accountability to ensure that assistance to Ukraine is used as intended.”
The timing is also significant. The Republican strategy will remind the administration that support for the war is waning among conservative voters, analysts believe. A recent poll indicated that Americans are increasingly skeptical of the massive arms packages President Biden has sent or announced for Ukraine.
Thus, according to Pew Research, the share of Americans who say the US gives too much aid to Ukraine rose to 25% in January, up from 19% in September 2022. Meanwhile, 31% of Americans say the US is giving the right amount of aid, down significantly from last fall. Another 20% of the 5,152 respondents said they would like the U.S. to provide more aid, while 20% said they were unsure.
The share of Americans who think the United States has provided too much support through economic assistance and weapons is higher among Republicans, at 40%.
About 6 in 10 Democrats and independents who vote Democratic say either the United States provides about the right amount of support – 40 percent – or not enough – 23 percent. Only 15 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the United States provides too much assistance, up 10 percentage points from 5 percent last March.
The drop in public support for aid to Ukraine is therefore significant. That is why the efforts of those who make aid conditional on real progress (military, but also against corruption) are needed. While Biden administration officials like to say that US support for the war will continue „as long as it’s needed,” Republicans will be more eager to see progress, especially coming from the Ukrainian side on the battlefield, experts believe.
„My view is that the (Democratic president’s) administration is vastly overestimating the amount of time it has, that even members who are, let’s just say, somewhere between pro-war and America First want to see progress, want to see results, and not be satisfied with having a no-win situation (as exists now).”
Heinrcihs argued that gradually eroding support for Ukraine shows that the Biden Administration is not managing the window of opportunity for victory in Ukraine well, and believes that the longer the war continues, the greater the chances that other NATO members will become impatient and lose support among their publics.
„You have to act hard and fast, rather than continue like this forever,” the expert said. What the Biden administration is currently doing „is mismanagement.”
Against this delicate backdrop, commentators believe that sustained assistance to Ukraine is shaping up to be the biggest foreign policy battle of the newly divided Congress.
Sources: Defense One, Washington Post, CNN, AP, NBC News, The Guardian, Business Insider; Traducere (Ovidiu Harfas)
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