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Friday briefing: Why a deadlock in the US senate could have dire consequences for Ukraine

<span>Photograph: Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Shutterstock

Good morning.

Uncertainty chokes the resolve of western support for Ukraine after Republican senators blocked a $106bn bill that would have provided funds to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan – as well as bolstering security along the US-Mexico border. Although many Republicans are in favour of providing aid to Ukraine, the bill has become a lightning rod issue, as the GOP have realised they could use it as leverage to push through more hardline immigration policies.

Despite pleas from president Biden, Republican politicians have been steadfast in their demands. Onlookers are viewing this moment as a litmus test for the effect of domestic politics on western support for Kyiv.

I spoke with the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, Patrick Wintour, and Guardian foreign correspondent Luke Harding who is currently reporting from Ukraine, about what this deadlock in the Senate could mean for the future of the war. That’s right after the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Israel-Hamas war | The US has issued some of its strongest criticism of Israel’s conduct in the war against Hamas. US secretary of state Antony Blinken said there was a gap between the Israeli government’s declared intentions to protect civilians and the mounting casualties seen on the ground. The death toll in Gaza now stands at 17,000, according to its health ministry.

  2. UK news | Police are still blaming child victims of sexual grooming gangs for the attacks they suffer, an official report has found. The report found that while the situation had improved over the last decade, progress was slow, and warnings from other official bodies had not been heeded. It also dismissed claims that one ethnic group posed more of a danger to children than any other.

  3. Covid inquiry | Boris Johnson said there was nothing he could have reasonably done to stop lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, calling media coverage and TV adaptations of these events “absurd” and “a travesty of the truth”.

  4. Education | A “rude and intimidating” Ofsted inspection carried out inflexibly by poorly trained staff contributed to the death by suicide of the headteacher Ruth Perry, a coroner has concluded.

  5. US news | Hunter Biden has been indicted on nine tax charges in California, in the second indictment against the president’s son, adding fuel to a scandal that Republicans have been seizing on in the lead-up to the 2024 election. The new charges include three felonies and six misdemeanor offences, and Biden faces a possible 17-year sentence if convicted.

In depth: ‘Three largely unrelated issues blended together make the situation so much more difficult’

The deadlock in the US government is not just about funding Ukraine – there is a broader political stalemate happening over many issues. “It’s a symbol of the polarisation that’s happened in America for the last five to 10 years, but this is a real high point in that there are three largely unrelated issues – funding for Ukraine, funding for Israel and policy changes on the US-Mexico border – which have become blended together and that has made the whole situation so much more difficult to resolve,” Patrick says.

Biden has urged both Democrats and Republicans to put the emergency legislation through. He asked: “Who is prepared to walk away from holding Putin accountable for this behaviour? Who among us is really prepared to do that?” Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy has also encouraged the US government not to show weakness in the face of flagrant Russian aggression. But for the populist Republican politicians who have been demanding stricter US border controls in exchange for their votes on funding for Ukraine, it was not enough.

***

Is funding really running out?

The White House has issued dire warnings this week that without congressional approval of this emergency funding, the US will run out of funds to aid Ukraine’s war effort by the end of the year. Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said: “There is no magical pot of funding available to meet this moment. We are out of money – and nearly out of time.”

The Pentagon has given the impression that there is still enough money in the pot to continue funding most of what Ukraine will need for the next month or so. “The White House has been quite apocalyptic, implying that unless Republicans change their stance now, or certainly before Christmas, Putin will win and Ukraine will have to run up the white flag because they simply won’t have the ammunition and the wherewithal to continue to fight,’’ Patrick says. While that may be an oversimplification, Patrick adds, it is still hard to plan and fight a war if there is no certainty around how much money will be available in the short to medium term.

On the other hand, there is the question of Russian sanctions, which have not had a sufficient impact on Russian finances. “The Kremlin can continue to fund their war effort indefinitely. And they have got what seems like an infinite supply of manpower that they can send to the front, either through conscription or other means. For the Ukrainians, however, there is a significant supply issue of troops,” Patrick says.

***

How Ukraine has reacted

Luke Harding had just spoken to former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma when I called him. Kuchma told Luke that he had woken up at three in the morning and watched the US vote take place. “Obviously, he was not thrilled by the result, but I think he appreciated that Biden had made a very strong speech,” Luke says. “I think there is an understanding for what the Biden administration is trying to do and frustration that it hasn’t worked.”

As tensions began to rise over the funding issue, president Zelenskiy abruptly cancelled a high-profile address to the US house and senate. A classified briefing went ahead, but erupted into a shouting match over border security.

***

Is international support waning?

There is a sense that, as the two-year anniversary of this war approaches, international support is faltering: “There is a feeling that the international coalition that has been supporting Ukraine, which has been pretty amazing since the invasion, is weakening,” Luke says.

Six months ago the Russian strategy of waiting it out until the west loses interest did not look like it was going to work. But now, with Israel’s war in Gaza, that calculation looks slightly more realistic, especially if American military assistance begins to crater.

“The fear is, in the worst case scenario, next year the Russians are able to advance because Ukraine just doesn’t have enough weapons,” Luke says.

Patrick also notes that there are parallel problems in Europe at the moment, with Viktor Orbán opposing the degree of support that the EU is giving both financially and politically to Ukraine. If funding from both Europe and the US stalls at the same time, “there is no way that Ukraine can continue to fight for very long. It will be just a straightforward loss of ammunition, guns and manpower”, Patrick says. These arguments are being made now to Republicans, including by David Cameron who is in Washington DC, with supporters of Ukraine insisting that Putin will not stop in Ukraine if he wins there. “It would be a catastrophic geopolitical defeat for the west,” Patrick says.

It is not all doom and gloom however: Zelenskiy said to the G7 earlier this week that Ukraine had not lost any ground and they were making progress in pushing the Russian fleet back into the Black Sea.

Luke says: “Everybody understands they have to keep fighting and there’s no alternative. If they stop, Russia will take over the whole country and the kind of horrors we saw in Bucha and Mariupol will be carried out everywhere.”

Luke adds that the thing that strikes him is that the war has continued to consolidate Ukraine as a nation in a completely new way. He described a “united” country that sees a democratic future for itself in the EU.

What else we’ve been reading

  • The legendary Brummie poet and writer Benjamin Zephaniah has died at the age of 65, after being diagnosed with a brain tumour eight weeks ago. You can find some snapshots of his life in this brilliant photo gallery. To get a sense of the impact that this beloved writer had, read these tributes from his contemporaries. And for a flavour of what made the nation, and the world, fall in love with him to begin with, the Guardian has published three of his poems that reflect his desire to create a world anchored in care, justice and belonging. Nimo

  • When Black Lives Matter moved from protest to organising, summer 2020 saw the launch of the annual Black Unity Bike Ride, a “joyful antidote to the darkness”. Aniefiok Ekpoudom joined the ride. Clare Longrigg, acting head of newsletters

  • Don’t throw money at the problem – plan carefully and Christmas won’t bust your budget. Sarah Phillips collects money gurus’ tips to keep your holiday spending from getting out of control. Nimo

  • Weight loss surgery can improve the health of some patients, but surgeons at one New York hospital have been working a “high speed assembly line” to conduct as many operations as possible. A New York Times (£) investigation reveals corners cut to maximise profits. Clare

  • The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is considered one of the one the deadliest suicide locations in the world. It is now finally getting a safety net. In this moving article, Justo Robles spoke to parents who’s children died on the bridge about grief, their years of campaigning for a barrier and hopes for the future. Nimo

Sport

Football | The excuses were starting to wear thin after a fifth successive match that saw Tottenham throw away their lead, ending with a 2-1 loss to West Ham. Everton have clambered out of the relegation zone – after the biggest sporting sanction in Premier League history – thanks to a 3-0 victory against Newcastle.

Rugby | The British & Irish Lions will take on Argentina in Dublin in preparation for their 2025 tour to Australia in what will be their first ever match in Ireland, the team said on Thursday.

Youth sports | New figures showing that 53% of children and young people in England still do not meet the chief medical officer’s guidelines for daily activity are a “national concern”, the Youth Sport Trust has warned.

The front pages

The Guardian leads with “Sunak fights to hold Tories together over Rwanda plan”. The Times looks at the same issue with “Rwanda plan risks failing, top lawyers warned PM”.

The i reports “‘Wounded’ PM faces growing rebellion”, while the Telegraph has “Ousting PM would be insanity, says Tory chairman”. The Mirror’s take is simply “Tories are imploding”.

The Financial Times reports “Labour enlists 10 City advisers to help cement confidence of business sector”. Finally, the Mail’s front page says “Minister: immoral to threaten jail over licence fee”.

Something for the weekend

Our critics’ roundup of the best things to watch, read and listen to right now

TV
Smothered (Sky Comedy and Now)

The romcom is as indestructible as a cockroach: a thousand reports of its impending demise have been matched by a thousand reports of its sudden resurgence. At this stage, it’s safe to say the genre will outlive us all. That’s partly because the romantic comedy is powered by a problem that will never be resolved: the glorious headache that is falling in love. Smothered, the riotous new show from bestselling author and Schitt’s Creek writer Monica Heisey, takes this eternal affliction and tangles it up with a very modern complication, to produce a comedy that is utter joy. Rachel Aroesti

Music
Tate McRae: Think Later
Tate McRae’s music ticks every box on the commercial checklist but her new album doesn’t catapult her into the same league as Billie Eilish or Olivia Rodrigo. It’s hard not to listen to McRae and think that there is an awful lot of this stuff about. Yet it’s clearly a formula with commercial life in it. McRae is still fitting a lot of currently popular boxes without escaping them. There are highlights, but the overwhelming impression is of placeholder pop, filling space until something different comes along. Alexis Petridis

Film
Wonka (cinemas nationwide)
On paper, it is the worst possible idea: a new musical-prequel origin myth for Willy Wonka, the reclusive top-hatted chocolatier from Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s story Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, who decides in the onset of middle age to offer five Golden Tickets at random for kids to look round his secret confectionery paradise, staffed by a slave labour workforce of Oompa-Loompas. But in the hands of Brit-cinema’s new kings of comedy, writer Simon Farnaby and writer-director Paul King (who have already worked their magic on Paddington), this pre-Wonka is an absolute Christmas treat; it’s spectacular, imaginative, sweet-natured and funny. Peter Bradshaw

Podcast
British Scandal: The Aitken Affair (Wondery, episodes weekly)
“This guy’s not the worst there ever was, he’s certainly not the best – but he’s a really fantastic template for the scumbag MP.” Rob Delaney steps in as co-host with Alice Levine for the latest scandal in this hit series: Tory MP Jonathan Aitken, who was tipped to be prime minister but was jailed for 18 months for perjury and perverting the course of justice. Hollie Richardson

Today in Focus

Sellafield: Europe’s most toxic nuclear site

Anna Isaac, Alex Lawson and Michael Safi on the Guardian’s investigation into safety concerns at Europe’s most hazardous nuclear plant.

Cartoon of the day | Ben Jennings

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

His remarkable story has now been made into a film, One Life, with Johnny Flynn and Anthony Hopkins playing the younger and older versions of Nicholas Winton. Here Ann Lee looks at the British humanitarian who was a modest and unassuming man, loathe to grandstand about his achievements. But four generations owe their lives to Winton who brought trainloads of Jewish children from Czechoslovakia to Britain in 1939.

Despite helping to save 669 children from the Holocaust, Winton kept it a secret for many years. “If there was something that needed doing and nobody was doing it, Nicholas would step in,” says John Fieldsend, now 92, who was one of the children he rescued. “That was the motto for his life.”

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.