Almost 20 months into the largest European war since the end of World War II, hundreds of thousands of casualties, millions of displaced families, dangers to energy and food security, the emergence of a totalitarian villain’s club bent on remaking a world order that better serves their ambitions, and yet internal politics are the subject of partisan squabbling in the most powerful country in the world.
The idea, widely accepted last year, that Ukraine is fighting for itself and also for the rest of us is now disputed. Aid was cut from the government financing deal agreed on September 30.
And yet. Despite the grin that will certainly have spread across Vladimir Putin’s face and despite some despair among Ukraine’s supporters, I think we’ll be alright. Grounds for optimism include the undisputed fact that both houses of Congress contain significant majorities for Ukraine aid.
As President Biden said on October 2: “There’s an overwhelming number of Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate who support Ukraine. Let’s vote on it.”
The US has a short-term funding gap following the so-called continuing resolution (CR), which enables the federal government to keep going for 45 days.
Ukraine aid was stripped out, but there will now be efforts to restore it. The government has approximately $5.5bn of Ukraine funding remaining, and that is expected to last some months.
Congress needs to do two things.
First, lead the US efforts and ensure strong resourcing for Ukraine support for the remainder of 2023 and all of 2024, and quickly.
And second, carry the message to the American public, partners and allies, and Russia and other competitors and adversaries, of the critical nature of US leadership and support to Ukraine’s fight for freedom.
For the first, legislators need to take up this issue as soon as possible. And it cannot be limited to the $6bn in aid proposed in the most recent and ultimately unsuccessful budget package, or even the $24bn requested by the administration this summer.
The funds need to provide certainty to assist long-term planning and the oversight that Congress rightly insists upon. This cannot be done without consistent resources, budgeting, and planning.
This aid package should cover the rest of this year and, ideally, all of 2024. It should take into consideration 12-16 months of planning and support encompassing all aspects, including military, economic, and humanitarian assistance. Only by aiming for a long-term package can we ensure that Ukraine aid is ringfenced from the US election cycle and the (worrying) fact that the line between foreign policy and domestic issues continues to blur.
Secondly, the US and its democratic allies must provide leadership on tough and sometimes unpopular issues.
The US needs elected officials to constantly make the case about why this fight is not about a single country in Eastern Europe but to make the case that Ukrainian defeat would puncture the European continent’s security and so place US interests at risk.
US national security is entwined with European security. Leadership on both sides of the aisle and both sides of Capitol Hill understand this and repeatedly exhibit staunch support of continued aid to Ukraine. This included an unusual joint Senate letter by majority leader Chuck Schumer and minority leader Mitch McConnell, the same day as the continuing resolution passage, calling for a quick return to work on resources for the Ukrainian fight.
Yet internal strife in the House Republican party looks to be top of the to-do list when the House returns to session this week. There are signs that this could become quite nasty and may involve efforts to remove Speaker Kevin McCarthy. This would be a distraction.
But I choose to be hopeful. Over my years in government service, I have seen reason replace absurdity, pragmatism replace anger, and good governance replace politicking. I remain a believer in the system. The majority of Congress wants to get the work done, ensure Ukrainian support, and exhibit clear leadership on these critical national security needs. I believe in the institution of the US Congress; now it’s time for the institution to believe in itself.
Catherine Sendak is the Director of the Transatlantic Defense and Security program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). From 2018 to 2021, she was the Principal Director for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. Sendak also spent over a dozen years on Capitol Hill on both the House and Senate Committees on Armed Services.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.