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Factors behind U.S. impasse on Ukrainian aid and looming funding risks

Factors behind U.S. impasse on Ukrainian aid and looming funding risks Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskyy (Photo: Getty Images)

The reasons why the U.S. Congress cannot approve a multibillion-dollar aid package for Ukraine and whether there are chances to receive it in the near future can be found in an article by RBC-Ukraine.

Sources: The New York Times, CBS, public statements of Ukrainian and American top officials.

Today, the U.S. Senate will vote on a multibillion-dollar aid package for Ukraine and Israel, previously introduced to Congress by President Joe Biden. Unfortunately, there are virtually no chances for its approval. Despite Democrats holding a majority in the Senate, legislation requires a guaranteed 60 votes for passage, which the Biden-led party does not possess. Following yesterday's disrupted briefing for senators, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was to participate online, it became evident that the initial Ukrainian-Israeli aid package wouldn't even pass the Senate. At stake is $61 billion intended to support Ukraine (although Ukraine won't receive this entire sum directly).

Moreover, according to The New York Times, prospects for a quick compromise between Democrats and Republicans on this issue have become even more uncertain. Essentially, the Ukrainian matter (regarding aid to Israel, there's practically consensus in the American establishment) has become a hostage to both real domestic issues in the U.S. and the unfolding presidential campaign there.

Hostage of coming elections

In recent days, those advocating for aid to Ukraine have increasingly commented in an alarmist tone. "The failure to support Ukraine is just absolutely crazy," said Biden. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stated that if Ukraine isn't helped, it will "open the Pandora's box of aggression around the world." And Andriy Yermak, Head of the President's Office in Ukraine, has declared that the lack of American assistance poses a "great risk of losing this war."

The primary reason Republicans cite for their reluctance to vote for the presidential initiative regarding Ukraine is disagreement with the current administration's immigration policy.

From the Ukrainian perspective, considering these two vastly different issues—migration and aid to Ukraine—jointly may seem artificial. However, in the U.S., it's a common political practice to create large legislative packages as part of a compromise between the two leading parties.

The issue of immigration to the US itself is notably acute. For the second consecutive year, American border authorities have detained over two million people illegally crossing into the US through the Mexican border. The Democratic Party, especially its left wing, traditionally holds a more favorable position toward migrants. But currently, many Democrats, even at the local level, openly discuss the need to address the migration problem.

The Republican Party adheres to a stricter policy on migration, particularly its Trumpist wing—building the border wall with Mexico became one of Donald Trump's main projects during his presidency.

Hence, the measures proposed by the Biden administration for border protection are considered absolutely insufficient by Republicans. They advocate for radical strengthening of the border itself through technical means, increasing the number of border patrols, and enforcing stricter rules for migrants seeking asylum in the US. The appointment of new judges on migration issues is also a pressing matter—there are currently over two million pending asylum cases in the US, which would take several years to resolve.

However, Democrats and Republicans could likely find a compromise on the migration issue without holding the Ukrainian aid package hostage if it weren't for a purely political factor—the upcoming presidential elections in the U.S. In this context, both parties attempt to demonstrate maximum firmness to their voters and reluctance to make serious concessions to their opponents.

As a result, yesterday's briefing for senators involving Blinken, where Zelenskyy ultimately did not participate, took a more traditional tone for the Ukrainian parliament than for the American Senate—filled with mutual accusations, demonstrative moves, and slamming doors. The formal reason—Republicans did not see officials responsible for border control at the briefing. One senator even accused General Charles Brown, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of never being at the border.

Thus, pre-election populism in the U.S. is gaining momentum, making the prospects of providing American assistance to Ukraine increasingly precarious.

Shutdown and Ukraine

After the failed vote in the Senate, it seems that Democrats and Republicans will have to come to some agreement. Especially considering that apart from Ukraine, there is an even more fundamental issue on the agenda. By January 19 of next year, the U.S. will have to finally pass the budget for the current fiscal year to avoid a government shutdown. The adoption of the previous temporary budget in mid-November was barely achieved by American congressmen. Obviously, it will be the same this time, especially since the Trumpist wing of the Republicans openly demands a shutdown, following the same electoral logic, hoping that a government collapse will strike Biden's positions.

In the negotiations regarding the budget, the Ukrainian issue will undoubtedly be at play. This may be the last real chance to push through Congress a significant aid package for Ukraine, as the 2024 election campaign will already be in full swing. Obviously, things will go smoother in the Senate since the leader of the Republicans in the upper chamber of Congress, Mitch McConnell, is a staunch supporter of Ukraine. However, in the House of Representatives, where the majority are Republicans, and loyal to Trump, Mike Johnson holds the speaker's seat, more problems are expected. Johnson has stated multiple times that the issues of migration and border security are his priorities, and he's not ready for serious compromises.

As of now, the situation for Ukraine looks threatening but not yet catastrophic. The chances for the aid package (possibly in a revised form) to be voted on still exist. According to The New York Times, the Pentagon believes that the remaining $4.8 billion from the previous aid package may suffice for Ukraine until the end of winter if spent in small portions (as has been happening for some time). However, in that case, serious successes on the front should not be expected.