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U.S. midterm elections and support for Ukraine

The results of the midterm competition for control of the U.S. House and Senate are in and President Joe Biden believes that the basic bipartisan consensus to support Ukraine will hold. I think he is right. But we should take nothing for granted and recognize that there will be challenges ahead. Ukrainian Americans and Ukraine’s many other friends will need to keep up their advocacy efforts for a long time to come, particularly in the coming weeks.

Given historical precedent, most experts predicted that Democrats would get clobbered, especially given high inflation. But the anticipated midterm Republican Red Wave did not materialize. However, even though the pro-Trump, MAGA candidates underperformed, they will still be enough of a force to complicate support for Ukraine.

The narrowly-controlled Republi­can House will likely be more problematic than the U.S. Senate, which remains under Democratic control, albeit barely.

The vast majority of Democrats in both the Senate and the House, even those who signed the October House Progressives’ unfortunate letter which they hastily retracted, continue to back Ukraine. So do most Republicans, including those most likely to assume chairmanships on relevant House committees.

On the Senate side, the Republican leadership, along with top Republicans on key committees such as the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees remain staunch advocates of Ukraine. They and most of their Republican colleagues in both chambers constitute what I would call the internationalist/national security/neo-Reaganite wing of the party. They understand that Ukraine winning the war is the central foreign policy issue of our time.

The chief problem lies in the MAGA and neo-isolationist wing of the Republican Party, fueled and abetted by the likes of Donald Trump, certain Fox News television talk show hosts, and some conservative groups and think tanks with longstanding ties to the Republican party – sadly, the Heritage Foundation is among them. They will cause problems, but they will not succeed in stopping aid altogether – or even cutting it dramatically. After all, in addition to the pro-Ukrainian majorities in Cong­ress, there is also still a reservoir of deep support among the American public.

Rather, the fight in Congress will be over maintaining the high levels of funding we have seen thus far, especially the desperately needed financial assistance to help keep the Ukrainian economy stay afloat. Many in both parties think that our allies and partners – especially those in the European Union – could be doing more to help Ukraine. While they have a point, it is also the case that just because others should be doing more does not mean we should be doing less.

There are many reasons why assisting Ukraine is in our national security interest. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin put it succinctly at the recent Halifax Interna­tional Security Forum: “The outcome of the war in Ukraine will help determine the global security of this young century, and those of us in North America don’t have the option of sitting this one out. Stability and security on both sides of the Atlantic are at stake.” Helping Ukraine maximally should be a no-brainer.

This is no time for isolationism. The $66 billion appropriated by Congress for Ukraine-related aid since February 24 is doubtlessly a lot of money. On November 15, Mr. Biden asked for an additional $37.7 billion in emergency funding. The current Congress may exceed this amount, as it has done with earlier requests. But even these generous allotments would be dwarfed by the costs the United States would incur with an undefeated, and hence, sooner or later, emboldened Russia. A Ukrainian win would also send a powerful signal to an increasingly aggressive China. For these and other reasons, assistance for Ukraine is an excellent return on the U.S. investment – indeed, it’s a bargain. Fiscally conservative Republicans in Congress – many of whom are sympathetic to Ukraine – should be mindful of this. Now is not the time to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Helping Ukraine is not only in our national interests, but it is deeply consistent with our values. The United States has a moral imperative to help a country experiencing genocide – yes, genocide – at the hands of a brutal, heartless aggressor. The continuing missile attacks designed to make Ukrainians suffer as much as possible this winter and that continue to kill innocent civilians, including babies at maternity wards, starkly demonstrate that the Kremlin is devoid of conscience. Metro­politan Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the leader of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States, summed it up well at a recent gathering of U.S. Catholic bishops: “The American people broadly support American aid to Ukraine because they understand it’s in America’s best interest. They also see the virtue of the Ukrainian position: it’s a position of peace, of democracy, of freedom; it’s a position that is inspired by faith.” Something to mull over especially as we approach the Christmas season.

Given the uncertainties that lie ahead in the next (118th) Congress, the current Congress should do everything possible during the lame-duck session to appropriate military and non-military assistance for Ukraine so that the country is guaranteed funding for the coming months. Encoura­ging are reports that at least some leading Congressional Republicans, along with their Democratic colleagues, are ready to allocate more than the $37 billion request as part of the end-of-the-year omnibus funding bill, especially if it includes additional oversight measures.

Ideally, Congress will pass a generous Ukraine emergency aid package this month as part of a full government spending bill. This would be preferable to another temporary spending bill (continuing resolution) which would kick the can down the road to the next Congress with its unpredictability, particularly in the House. Ukraine needs and more than deserves fulsome appropriations for what is, after all, our fight as well. We must never forget that in defending their homeland the Ukrainian people are protecting freedom, democracy and the rules-based international order. In short, they are defending the civilized world.

The Ukrainian Weekly