US funding for Ukraine war in peril after Congress budget deal

Last-minute funding bill to avoid government shutdown did not include Ukraine funds

A Ukrainian soldier fires a machinegun near Andriivka in Ukraine's Donetsk region in August. AP
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The future of US aid for Ukraine hangs in the balance after a last-gasp deal to avoid a government shutdown, despite President Joe Biden's attempts to reassure Kyiv it will get what it needs to fight Russia.

Barely a week after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was in Washington appealing for more funds, the compromise struck in Congress late on Sunday dropped new funding for Ukraine amid opposition from hardline Republicans.

Mr Biden and his Democratic party say America has a duty to help Ukraine stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion, warning that a failure to do so could embolden other autocrats in the future.

But the issue has become so politicised in Washington that the fate of vital military aid is now in jeopardy, just as Kyiv tries to make progress in its sluggish counter-offensive before winter sets in.

Mr Biden urged Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Sunday to “stop the games” and said he “fully expects” him to secure passage of a separate bill for Ukraine funding soon.

“I want to assure our American allies, the American people and the people in Ukraine that you can count on our support. We will not walk away,” Mr Biden said in an address from the White House.

Ukraine played down the blow, saying on Sunday it was “actively working with its American partners” to ensure new wartime aid.

Yet the wider signal to the world – that not only Republicans but also some Democrats were willing to sacrifice Ukraine for politics – is damaging, said analyst Brett Bruen.

“That ought to worry leaders in Kyiv, and I think in Moscow they're celebrating the signs that our support may be waning,” Mr Bruen, president of the Global Situation Room consultancy and a former US diplomat, told AFP.

Ukraine is already nervously looking at the possibility of a return to the White House by Republican former president Donald Trump, who has previously praised Mr Putin.

Top House Democrats said on Saturday that they expect Mr McCarthy to bring a separate Ukraine aid bill for a vote next week, although it was unclear if it would be the $24 billion Mr Biden originally sought.

But that could be more easily said than done.

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Ukraine's fight for survival has become a political football just more than a year from the US presidential election, with questions mounting over aid approved by Congress that totals $100 billion so far, including $43 billion in weaponry.

First, there is a bid to unseat Mr McCarthy next week by hardline Republican Matt Gaetz, one of a core of hard-right members of the party implacably opposed to any more aid for Ukraine.

If he does survive, Mr McCarthy made it clear on Sunday that he would hold out for funding to stop immigrants crossing the Mexican border, a key Republican demand.

“I'm going to make sure that the weapons are provided for Ukraine, but they're not going to get some big package if the border is not secure,” Mr McCarthy told CBS.

Even if Mr McCarthy does agree on the Ukrainian aid, possibly in a deal with Democrats to allow him to stay as Speaker, there is a wider problem – war fatigue.

Scepticism is spreading from the hardline Republicans to more moderate politicians who say they won't write Ukraine a “blank cheque.”

More worryingly for Mr Biden and Kyiv, inflation-hit American voters appear to have similar concerns about Ukraine.

An ABC/Washington Post poll released on September 24 showed 41 per cent of respondents saying the US was doing too much to support Ukraine, up from 33 per cent in February and just 14 per cent in April 2022.

Updated: October 01, 2023, 10:00 PM