Capitol Hill — The U.S. Congress is running out of time to pass a new aid package for Ukraine, as Senate lawmakers worked through the weekend to negotiate a deal for border security funding in return for Republican votes.
The United States 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 U.S. at its southern border and expelling some who are already in the country.
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.
The U.S. Senate had been scheduled to hold its last day in session for this year last Thursday but adjusted the schedule to allow for time for further negotiations. The House of Representatives went out of session for the rest of the year but could be called back to vote if a deal is reached.
As of Monday morning, lawmakers still had not agreed on legislation and a vote appeared increasingly unlikely.
House wants more
Even if an agreement passes in the Senate, it likely would not survive in the House, where Republicans hold a very narrow majority. A significant group of Republican House members opposes additional aid to Ukraine, and the party recently voted out a speaker who partnered with Democrats to pass legislation.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, who took over after 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.
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 more than $50 billion, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban used his veto to scuttle the plan.
Orban’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.
Gentile, however, said a significant delay, or 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.”