Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has left Washington with US$325-million more in military aid from U.S. President Joe Biden, including additional cluster munitions and anti-aircraft missiles, but infighting among congressional Republicans is jeopardizing the continuation of American support for Kyiv’s war effort.
Mr. Zelensky made a whirlwind visit to the U.S. capital Thursday, with stops at Congress, the Pentagon and the White House in a bid to shore up backing among the top funder of his country’s defence against Russia’s invasion.
The visit, his second to Washington, followed speeches to the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council in New York earlier in the week. The Ukrainian President is next expected to address the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa on Friday.
Mr. Biden used the occasion to present Mr. Zelensky with the latest allocation of defence help: “We’re supporting a just and lasting peace, one that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the U.S. President said after ushering his Ukrainian counterpart, clad in military green, into the Oval Office.
“When it comes to weapons, we will discuss everything, with a special emphasis on air defence,” Mr. Zelensky said, underlining both how a lack of air support has hampered his military’s current counteroffensive and the devastation of Russian cruise missile attacks on Ukrainian cities.
But whether Ukraine will receive any further aid depends on fraught budget talks in Congress. The money Mr. Biden announced Thursday was from previously-allocated funds. To sustain Ukraine’s defence until the end of the year, legislators are considering a further US$24-billion outlay. So far, the U.S. has sent about US$113-billion to Ukraine since Moscow launched the full-scale war in February of last year.
While there is broad, bipartisan support in Congress for helping Ukraine, a minority on the right of the Republican House caucus wants to stop the funds. This, among other issues, has prevented House Speaker Kevin McCarthy from moving forward on any budget bills so far, setting the stage for a potential government shutdown later this month. Mr. McCarthy does not want to push forward any spending plan without the support of the right-wingers for fear they would otherwise try to oust him.
The Speaker gave Mr. Zelensky a relatively chilly reception at the Capitol, declining to join Democratic House Leader Hakim Jeffries in welcoming him before a closed-door meeting with a group of law makers. Mr. McCarthy told reporters that he had denied Mr. Zelensky’s request to make a speech to both chambers of Congress, as the Ukrainian President previously did last December, because “we just didn’t have the time” and “he’s already given a joint session.”
The Speaker also would not commit to supporting more military aid: “Look, we’ve got to get our fiscal house taken care of here in America.”
The Senate proved a friendlier place for the Ukrainian President, with both Democratic and Republican leaders, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, greeting him ahead of a private sit-down with all members of the chamber.
“American support for Ukraine is not charity. It’s an investment in our own direct interests,” said Mr. McConnell, one of Kyiv’s staunchest supporters in Congress, in a speech before the meeting.
Ukraine’s efforts to lock down further U.S. support have been hurt by corruption within its defence ministry, which paid inflated prices for food and weapons, and slower-than-expected progress in push back Russian forces in recent months.
In a letter to Mr. Biden, several Republican legislators framed the spending on Ukraine as a waste of funds: “The American people deserve to know what their money has gone to,” read the missive, spearheaded by Ohio Senator J.D. Vance.
Ukraine’s President, however, stuck an optimistic note: “I felt trust between us. It allowed us to have frank and constructive dialogue,” he said of his congressional meetings.
Mr. Biden also dismissed concerns that legislators won’t move ahead with the spending: “I’m counting on the good judgment of the United sates Congress. There is no alternative,” he said after a second meeting in which Mr. Zelensky briefed members of the U.S. cabinet.
Ramping up the importance of U.S. aid, Poland on Wednesday announced it would stop sending military help to its neighbour. Poland, one of Ukraine’s most important allies and recipient of a major wave of refugees, is in the middle of both an election campaign and a trade dispute over Ukrainian grain.
Asked about Warsaw’s move on Thursday, Mr. Zelensky took the high road: “I’m grateful to Polish people, to the Polish society, for their support. That’s it.”
With a report from Reuters