Ukraine will get the US aid it needs, former Nato envoy predicts

Republicans holding up Ukraine money until immigration concerns are addressed

Members of the pro-Ukrainian Russian ethnic Siberian Battalion rest while training close to Kyiv on Wednesday. AP
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will ultimately get the US funds his country desperately needs to continue to fight Russia's invasion, a former US ambassador to Nato has predicted.

Mr Zelenskyy left Washington empty-handed this week after Republicans made additional Ukraine funding contingent on President Joe Biden's administration toughening its immigration stance on the US-Mexico border.

Still, Kurt Volker, who served as US special representative for Ukraine negotiations from 2017 to 2019 and as George W Bush's Nato ambassador from 2008 to 2009, told The National that there is enough bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill to approve billions more dollars for Kyiv in the new year.

“It is so much in the US interest to support this aid to Ukraine,” Mr Volker said. “There's a very substantial majority in both chambers [of Congress] that gets it. I'm very optimistic that it will pass, but probably not … until they reconvene in January.”

The US Congress has approved more than $110 billion for Ukraine since Russia's February 2022 invasion, but no new funds since Republicans took control of the House from Democrats in January. The new funding package under consideration includes another $61 billion for Ukraine as well as money for Israel and border security.

Mr Volker, who is a distinguished fellow at the Centre for European Policy Analysis, added that the Biden administration had initially been too intransigent in its approach to Ukraine funding, insisting on portraying the issue as a battle for Ukraine's and the West's survival instead of sitting down sooner to seek compromise with Republicans on border security, which remains a top concern among conservative voters.

“How can [Republican politicians] go home and tell their voters they voted to give all this money to Ukraine and Israel, but did not do anything about our own security at home?” he said.

The White House told Congress this month that the government will run out of Ukraine military assistance at the end of the year.

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Republicans have sounded a pessimistic tone when it comes to Ukraine's chances of beating Russia, pointing to the slow progress of this year's counter-offensive, and have argued that the US should not be allocating more money for a lost cause.

But Mr Volker said Russia's capability to stay in the fight has been overstated, with Moscow forced to rely on old North Korean munitions and drones from Iran while conscripts are dying in huge numbers.

And crucially, Russia has dedicated about 45 per cent of its budget to the military effort, many times more than what the West is spending on the conflict.

“That is a huge and unsustainable level of spending, but they're doing it now as a short-term measure because they think if they do, they can outlast the West,” Mr Volker said.

The US has far deeper pockets and support for Ukraine so far represents a fraction of the Pentagon's $840 billion budget.

Newly declassified US intelligence shows that “Russia seems to believe that a military deadlock through the winter will drain western support for Ukraine” and ultimately give Moscow the advantage, Adrienne Watson, White House National Security Council spokeswoman, told reporters this week.

Mr Volker said Ukraine had eliminated “half” of the Russian military so far and estimated that 100,000 Russian troops have been killed since the 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with another 300,000 wounded. He said Ukraine's losses had been smaller.

The diplomat added that the US has many more tools at its disposal to help Ukraine, including by running freedom of navigation and demining operations in the Black Sea. The US should also stop limiting the range of the Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) it has provided Ukraine, something Mr Volker sees as hampering Kyiv's capabilities.

The US has been careful to avoid sending weapons that Russia could argue is a direct threat to its homeland.

Mr Volker also said the US needs to take more of a leadership role in pushing for Ukraine to join Nato.

The alliance worries such a move would be overly provocative to Russia and could even trigger a broader war with the West were Nato's Article 5 mutual defence clause to be invoked – but Mr Volker argued this rationale is a fallacy that only encourages Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep fighting.

Updated: December 14, 2023, 6:19 AM