some ukrainians think gop talk about cutting ukraine aid is all bluster

Republicans have spent most of this year complaining about last December’s $1.7 trillion spending bill.

While that bill has been called a budget-busting, inflation-fanning boondoggle by Republicans, a bipartisan group of party leaders added money to the Ukraine war-related part of the bill while it was being negotiated, boosting it from $38 billion to $45 billion, with the blessing and encouragement of some key Republicans.

“We have to look at what the Republicans who are in power are saying and doing,” said Mykola Murskyj, director of government affairs with Razom for Ukraine, a U.S.-based civil society group.

“By beefing up the supplemental appropriations request from the President, by demanding the president send these more advanced systems — long-range systems, tanks, drones that the administration doesn’t want to send — it’s the Republicans that are leading the charge for the administration to send these items,” he said.

Oleksiy Goncharenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament from the Odesa region, said there was some initial worry when the House went to Republicans, including some who have vowed Ukraine will not get any more money from the United States.

“I don’t want to lie, some Ukrainians were really afraid that after Republicans became the majority in the House of Representatives, something might not change for the better,” Goncharenko said in an email. “But we clearly see that this did not happen.”

Still, signs of “Ukraine fatigue” — weariness of continued support for the country that observed Friday the one-year anniversary of being brutally invaded by Russia — have grown overall, but particularly among Republicans. A late January poll found only 39% of Republicans approve of sending weapons to Ukraine, and only 21% approve of sending money there.

But for Ukrainians and their allies, the hope is that the loudest voices on the far-right — House Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and presidential candidate Donald Trump — do not reflect the sentiment of the vast majority of the party itself ahead.

That may be an increasingly slim reed to cling to, given recent weeks, though.

In a Feb. 2 interview with talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump all but explicitly said aid should be cut off from the Ukrainians to force them to the bargaining table.

Asked directly if the U.S. should cease aiding Ukraine, Trump said, “This thing has to stop, and it’s got to stop now. And it’s not going to stop if we continue to just load something up.”

Even more recently, Trump has warned the U.S. is edging closer to “World War III,” pointing to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons in the conflict.

“This thing has to stop, and it’s got to stop now. And it’s not going to stop if we continue to just load something up.”

– Former President Donald Trump

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, an unannounced but likely rival for the GOP presidential nomination, has recently taken a softer line on Russia, telling Fox News, “I don’t think it’s in our interest to be getting into a proxy war with China, getting involved over things like the borderlands or over Crimea.” (The “borderlands” DeSantis referred to have been internationally recognized borders since 1991.)

In the House, the concern is the same group of hard-right Republican lawmakers who extracted various promises from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in exchange for allowing him to have the gavel will also pressure him to cut help for Ukraine. McCarthy has said Ukraine will not have “a blank check.”

Greene has proposed the administration be forced to turn over papers and communications about aid deliberations, and several Republicans criticized President Joe Biden’s surprise trip to Kyiv ahead of the anniversary of the war.

But Ukrainians say those remain outliers and that the support for Ukraine largely is still bipartisan, even as the amount of money spent has increased. The Council on Foreign Relations has estimated $46.6 billion has been sent to Ukraine in the form of military aid through January, with additional amounts for humanitarian and financial assistance.

From Left: Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. listens as U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power speaks Friday at a press conference marking the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
via Associated Press

Republican critics have often cited a $113 billion figure, neglecting to mention that that amount includes aid to Ukraine but also aid to surrounding countries to help them deal with the influx of Ukrainian refugees, buying new weapons for the U.S. to replace equipment loaned or sent to Ukraine, and money to reposition NATO forces within Europe in response to the war.

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, notably made no distinction regarding Republicans when asked Friday about waning GOP support in an appearance with U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power.

“I think the arguments to the American people, they are the same, regardless of whether they are Democrats or Republicans or independents,” she said.

Those arguments are that it is the right thing to do morally to help repel Russia and that it is also “existential for the rule of international law” that Russia be defeated, she said. It also provides the best bang for the buck in defense spending, she added.

“God forbid if [Putin] goes into other countries, especially the NATO countries, it’s going to be much more expensive,” she said.

Walking away from Ukraine now would have terrible consequences, Power said. “I do think that that, as well, is going to help us retain the very, very strong bipartisan majorities that we have seen for support over the course of this year,” she said.

“God forbid if [Putin] goes into other countries, especially the NATO countries, it’s going to be much more expensive.”

– Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States

Razom’s Murskyj said too much attention had been focused on the loud but minority opposition within House Republicans and not enough on what he called “the three Mikes,” Reps. Mike McCaul (Texas), Mike Turner (Ohio) and Mike Rogers (Ala.), chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Armed Services, respectively.

He said all three support Ukraine, have considerable sway within the party, and unlike many Ukraine critics, they have congressional jurisdictions relating to Ukraine.

Goncharenko also pointed to one of “the Mikes,” McCaul, who he met at the recent Munich Security Conference. “Rep. McCaul is very determined to support Ukraine,” he said.

In a joint statement Thursday, the trio of House GOP lawmakers urged the Biden White House to go further with providing weapons:

“President Biden needs to stop dragging his feet on providing the lethal aid necessary to end this war. Continued half-measures by the Biden administration will only drive up the cost of this war in lives and dollars.”

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