US aid to Ukraine could be the next victim of Kevin McCarthy's pact with far-right Republicans
A far-right faction of House Republicans is pushing against continued US aid to Ukraine.
The US's security assistance has played a crucial role in helping Ukraine fend off Russian aggression.
Congressional gridlock could threaten that aid as the war enters a decisive period.
As Ukraine continues a painstaking fight to drive out Russian invaders, national security veterans are raising serious questions about whether the US — particularly, the newly empowered House GOP majority — has the political will to continue backing Kyiv with vital security assistance.
Those concerns ratcheted up amid House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's tumultuous journey to secure the gavel last month. After more than a dozen rounds of voting, an increasingly desperate McCarthy caved to a list of demands from a far-right faction of the House GOP, led largely by Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida firebrand who made it clear to McCarthy that he may be speaker, but it was in name only. McCarthy won the speakership in the 15th ballot.
Now, with the Ukraine war entering what NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called a "decisive phase," Gaetz and a number of fellow hardliners appear poised to collect on their debt, and Ukraine may pay the price. He and other far-right GOP members have repeatedly raised doubts about US assistance to Ukraine, with some saying outright that they would oppose the substantial level of aid that Democrats and most Republicans have supported thus far.
"For me, it's America First all the way and we're not doing anything about our own southern border," Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia told Insider. "Why are we protecting the border of another country?"
In a recent tweet, Greene also called Ukraine "one of the most corrupt countries in the world" and questioned whether "American's hard earned tax dollars are being stolen."
—Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) January 31, 2023
Foreign policy experts have sounded the alarm about the House GOP's fringe right potentially blocking the US from providing critical weapons like artillery and tanks that Ukraine needs to regain its territory. Indeed, sustained assistance to Ukraine looms as perhaps the biggest foreign policy battle in the new, divided Congress.
"The success of US assistance to date and the changing battlefield situation mean that many are worried about the fragility of the US Congress following the speaker vote, where a small number of members could derail future US assistance," Sean Monaghan, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Insider in an interview.
Kyiv, for its part, has kept a close eye on Congress' dynamics since the GOP won a narrow House majority in the November midterms. The following month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a risky, historic visit to Washington — his first time abroad since Russia invaded nearly a year ago — to emphasize the importance of the US's support and ask Congress to continue approving security assistance.
Those calls to ensure aid gets sent to Ukraine are only growing. Just this week, former United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with congressional Republicans to push for continued US support to the country. And Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin is slated to meet with a handful of senators on Wednesday to provide an update on the war.
'What I'm not for is just continuing to write a check'
The GOP's shift away from Ukraine and toward Russia has been years in the making, and reached a turning point when Donald Trump ascended to the White House.
In addition to repeatedly castigating Ukraine and amplifying Russian leader Vladimir Putin's pro-Russian conspiracy theories, Trump leveraged US aid to Ukraine while trying to strong-arm Zelenskyy into supporting his domestic political campaign, a scheme that eventually led to his first impeachment.
Gérard Araud, a former French ambassador to the US and the United Nations, told Insider that Putin couldn't have asked for more from the US vis-a-vis Ukraine.
"The Russians have always dreamed of having Trump back because, in military terms, the support of the Americans is really overwhelming compared to the support of the Europeans," he said.
In the two years since Trump left office, Republicans loyal to the former president have continued his crusade against Ukraine and promoted his isolationist stance. Many of those Republicans were also part of the so-called "Never Kevin" camp of lawmakers who stood in the way of McCarthy securing the speakership, until he made a slew of concessions.
Among those concessions: any lawmaker can force a vote to oust the House speaker; any lawmaker can force a vote to amend government spending bills; and hardline Republicans will get one-third of the seats on the House Rules Committee.
Some members of the Never Kevin camp have been evasive when asked about what they plan to do about key issues including the Ukraine war and the debt ceiling.
"Well, I mean, we'll see," Gaetz recently told The New York Times.
Others have been more forthcoming.
"It's a little premature to be talking about Ukraine aid when we just spent another $45 billion in December," Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas told Insider, referring to the massive spending bill the House passed in December, that included $45 billion in assistance to Ukraine.
"I have never said that I'm not for supporting Ukraine. In fact, I've said the opposite," added Roy, who opposed McCarthy's bid in 11 votes but later backed him. "But what I'm not for is just continuing to write a check, after check, after check without me understanding what's going to be the actual end result of this."
With the war expected to intensify as Russia gears up for a renewed offensive, it's possible those funds could quickly run out.
The US has provided more security assistance to Ukraine than any other country — over $27 billion — since Russia invaded last February. That aid includes weapons and equipment like Javelin anti-tank missiles, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), drones, Howitzers and over one million artillery rounds, and the Patriot missile system. Last week, the US announced it would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks, fulfilling a major request from Kyiv.
"It is no exaggeration to say the military assistance provided by the US since February has prevented Ukraine's capitulation. US arms, training and intelligence has helped Ukraine turn the tide against Russian forces and galvanized European support, while sanctions have severely constrained the Russian economy and defense industry," Monaghan, the CSIS analyst who previously served at the British Defense Ministry, told Insider.
'This GOP House majority will demand more oversight'
The US has also been instrumental in setting an example for other Western countries to follow.
If Washington's political support for Kyiv weakens, European countries, fearing they were facing Russia alone, might get "cold feet" about continuing to back Ukraine, Araud told Insider.
The Western alliance against Russia is "very clearly" led by the Biden administration and the US, Araud said, adding, "What happens in Washington, of course, will be carefully followed by everybody."
But Monaghan also cautioned that fears about US assistance suddenly drying up could be overblown, given that congressional Republicans have generally been supportive of aiding Ukraine.
"Given previous US assistance packages have been approved with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, and a majority of Americans support current levels of aid, this risk is greater in theory than in practice," he said.
GOP Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, echoed that view, telling Insider that there's continued bipartisan support for Ukraine in Congress.
"This GOP House majority will demand more oversight, transparency, and accountability to ensure assistance to Ukraine is used as intended," McCaul said in a statement.
Most European embassies in Washington have likely "sent a message back to their capital that actually the anti-Ukrainian people are not the majority of the Republican party," Araud said.
The general feeling is that it might be more difficult for the Biden administration to get what it wants for Kyiv with Republicans in charge of the House, Araud explained, and there could be "a bit less money or more accountability" and calls for "fighting corruption."
"Most Europeans don't think that suddenly the US is going to cut support to Ukraine," Araud said, adding that nobody anticipates Washington will "dump Ukraine."
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