When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy met with U.S. senators at the Capitol on September 21 during a blitz visit to Washington to rally support for more aid, he reportedly told them that without U.S. backing his nation would lose its potentially existential battle against the Russian invasion.
Less than two weeks later, a U.S. Congress embroiled in fierce partisan and interparty fighting over a new budget passed a temporary spending bill on September 30, averting a government shutdown for the time being. It included nothing for Zelenskiy's embattled nation.
In the hours and days that followed, U.S. politicians, experts, and analysts voiced confidence that Congress will pass a large Ukrainian aid bill before the end of the year, citing overwhelming support in both parties for assistance.
Nonetheless, the exclusion of aid for Ukraine pointed to waning support for Kyiv in the West as Russia's invasion of Ukraine grinds on with no end in sight and the United States and Europe struggle with high inflation.
"There's no question that Moscow is declaring this a victory -- an indication that the West is growing weary of this war," John Herbst, who was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in 2003-06, told RFE/RL, referring to the U.S. Congressional spending bill.
Hours before President Joe Biden signed the U.S. bill into law before midnight, staving off a costly shutdown, Slovaks handed a party that has promised to halt military supplies to Ukraine a plurality of the vote in an election that is likely to return former Prime Minister Robert Fico to power. Fico employed anti-Ukrainian rhetoric on the campaign trial, and he has praised Moscow and questioned the logic of European Union sanctions against Russia.
Herbst, who is now an analyst at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, is optimistic that a big new bill providing aid to Ukraine will be adopted this year.
Daniel Vajdich, president of the Washington-based Yorktown Solutions, which lobbies on behalf of Ukraine, also said he was confident that more U.S. military and financial assistance would flow to Kyiv.
For the moment, though, he said U.S. aid to Ukraine was a "casualty" of the bigger battle raging between Republicans and Democrats over the budget deficit, border control, and immigration restrictions.
"It is a perfect storm of unrelated but core Republican principles that have come into focus just as Ukraine assistance needs to be reupped," he said.
The Republicans control the 435-member House of Representatives by just nine seats, the smallest margin in nearly a century. That has given the party's right wing outsized power, including in negotiations on spending bills and choosing the House speaker.
That minority Republican group opposes additional support for Ukraine and is refusing to support it unless stricter immigration legislation and greater funding for control of the U.S. border with Mexico are assured.
The temporary spending bill that passed both chambers on September 30 includes natural disaster aid, a key Republican request, but not additional funding for Ukraine or border security.
The Senate version of the temporary spending bill included $6 billion for Ukraine but nothing for border security. The Republicans' right wing in the House shot it down.
"I'm not going to fund a government that doesn't care about our own border but that worships Ukraine," Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia and a leading member of the right wing of the party, said on September 30.
Herbst warned that the hard-right Republicans risk undermining U.S. power if they significantly curtail Ukrainian aid, asserting that "people who claim they want to make America great and strong again are making us look like patsies on the international stage."
At least for now, a key figure in the politically charged struggle over additional aid for Ukraine is House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who could push legislation through the lower chamber.
After signing the bill that omitted it, Biden said he expected McCarthy to keep his commitment to securing passage of support for Ukraine and urged Congress to negotiate an aid package quickly, saying there is "an overwhelming sense of urgency."
"We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted," Biden said on October 1.
McCarthy has supported aid to Ukraine in the past, warning only that there should be "no blank checks," but amid the political scuffles last week he accused the Senate of putting "Ukraine in front of America."
After the stopgap measure that included no aid for Kyiv was adopted, he said he would "make sure that the weapons are provided for Ukraine," but added that this would be only in conjunction with legislation dealing with the U.S. border.
"If McCarthy can get it to the floor, it will pass," Mark Cancian, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington who has been closely following U.S. aid to Ukraine, said of a bill on aid to Ukraine. "The question is, how does he do that without triggering a mutiny that causes him to lose his job?"
On October 2, Representative Matt Gaetz -- another leader of the hard-right Republican faction in the House and a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump -- launched a move to oust McCarthy, adding to the uncertainty. That showdown could come to a head this week.
While Democrats overwhelmingly back Biden's Ukraine policy, voting against the stopgap spending bill would have left them open to accusations of putting U.S. aid to Kyiv over keeping the government open, paying millions of federal employees, and funding crucial programs.
Congress has approved about $113 billion in military, economic, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine in four packages since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022. This August, Biden requested another $24 billion just as the fourth aid package was set to expire on September 30.
U.S. public support for Ukraine was high at the outset of the invasion. But nearly 20 months later, with no end to the fighting in sight and Americans facing the highest inflation in four decades, interest in the war had faded.
The decline in public support for Ukraine has been greater among Republicans, polls show. Trump, who is the party's leading candidate to challenge Biden in the November 2024 presidential election, has shown little enthusiasm for aiding Ukraine.
"You're having more and more on the populist right [oppose aid], and Trump is stoking the fires here," Cancian said.
But top Republicans in both houses of Congress do back more aid to Ukraine, as do other Republican presidential hopefuls, including Mike Pence, who was vice president under Trump.
In an interview with CBS television on October 1, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who has held a seat in the upper chamber for 20 years, said fellow party members who claim that Ukraine is not important to U.S. national security are "wrong."
He warned that withholding aid to Ukraine and allowing Russia to prevail would encourage further aggression from Putin and embolden Chinese President Xi Jinping to potentially launch an offensive against Taiwan.
"If we pull the plug on Ukraine, that is 10 times worse than Afghanistan," he said, referring to the chaotic U.S. pullout in 2021 that undermined U.S. global standing.
"To stop funding Ukraine is a death sentence for Taiwan," he said.
Many observers believe Putin's best or only hope of achieving his goals in Ukraine is for Western backing for Kyiv to falter.
Graham, an influential senator who serves on both the budget and appropriations committees, said he expected the upper chamber to pass a bill in the coming month that includes as much as $70 billion in aid to Ukraine. It would have to pass the House and be signed by Biden to become law.
However, Graham said the "key" to passing new Ukraine funding is an agreement on funding U.S. border security.
"To expect people like me and others to vote for Ukraine aid without border security is unreasonable," Graham said.
He downplayed the impact on Ukraine's war effort from the failure to pass the $6 billion in aid.
"I am not worried about the next six weeks. I am worried about the next year," he said.
Herbst said he thinks Congress will end up passing legislation providing aid in an amount that is not substantially lower than the $45 billion approved last December.
He said the composition of the support could be different, with a higher percentage consisting of military aid at the expense of financial aid. The Republicans' right flank has targeted financial aid, highlighting Ukraine's reputation for corruption.
Cancian, meanwhile, said Kyiv could start to feel the ramifications of the lack of aid by the end of October if no new bills are passed.
Ukraine is pressing ahead with a counteroffensive that has yielded relatively small territorial gains since it began in early June, though analysts say its forces have significantly degraded Russia's manpower in that four-month period.
The slow pace of progress in the counteroffensive has weakened Congressional support for Ukraine as some lawmakers now fear Russia's invasion is turning into a "forever war," Cancian said.
"The better Ukraine does on the battlefield, the less opposition you will have to aid," he said.
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