Amid competing U.S. security priorities, Ukraine could get left behind


Ukraine is running out of money and time, its proponents say. But congressional interest in financing its fight against invading Russian forces has dipped lower than ever, and rising competition from other national security priorities — including Israel and the U.S. southern border — could sound the death knell for continued American aid for its embattled European ally.

Both Democrats and Republicans have alluded to this possibility in recent days, as Congress hurtles toward a government shutdown and stands virtually no chance of attaching Ukraine aid to any measure aimed at preventing that. The Pentagon, meanwhile, has warned that its provisions for Kyiv are getting “smaller and smaller.”

“We are at risk of failing, of handing Putin a victory right when he is on the verge of defeat,” Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) told his Senate Foreign Relations Committee colleagues, invoking Russian President Vladimir Putin during a deliberative hearing last week that appeared engineered to shore up support for President Biden’s request for another $61 billion for the war. But Republicans are increasingly hesitant — and distracted.

Congress has less than a week to hash out a short-term bill to avert a government shutdown, before federal funding expires Saturday. Even then, lawmakers probably will have to spend the next two months trying to reconcile deep differences to pass larger funding plans for the year ahead.

The growing prospect that Congress, amid this chaotic landscape, will simply not approve additional aid for Ukraine could have major geopolitical ramifications, undermining one of Biden’s central foreign policy objectives and affirming Russian optimism that Western resolve would crack first in its bid to reclaim part of the old Soviet empire.

To date, Congress has appropriated some $113 billion to assist Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, providing armored vehicles, air defense systems, artillery, drones, munitions and more, which Ukrainian forces have used to destroy a significant amount of Russian weaponry and vehicles and oust the Russians from some key towns, the Biden administration says.

The president’s request for Ukraine is part of a $106 billion national security package that would also provide emergency funding for Israel as it prosecutes a retaliatory war in the Gaza Strip after Hamas militants pulled off a brazen cross-border attack last month; for initiatives to deter China throughout the Asia-Pacific region; and to address the surge in illegal immigration through the U.S.-Mexico border.

Republican lawmakers’ appetite for further helping Ukraine has been declining for many months, however, even before the nation’s much-anticipated summer offensive failed to produce any dramatic breakthroughs, as polling has showed a steady descent in the American public’s once robust support. In recent months, a small but powerful faction of House conservatives has thrown the legislature into disarray, further hindering the passage of liberal or bipartisan priorities. And now, Ukraine finds itself competing for lawmakers’ attention.

Sen. Cynthia M. Lummis (R-Wyo.) said in an interview that her Republican constituents are “of the opinion that, right at the moment, Israel is a higher priority and that, if later we needed to revisit some of these other earlier priorities, it would be appropriate to do so.”

Proponents in both chambers insist that a bipartisan majority of Congress still favors sending aid to Kyiv, but even that might not be enough to muscle through Biden’s request anytime soon.

The Republican-led House earlier this month approved a bill to pay for the administration’s requested $14 billion for Israel through cuts to the Internal Revenue Service. The bill was a nonstarter in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and the White House has said Biden would veto it. But many Republicans say they remain unwilling to pass Israel aid — the most popular aspect of Biden’s request — as the package deal that the White House and Ukraine’s backers had hoped to see.

“Ukraine funding, I believe, if it’s worth doing, needs to stand on its own,” Rep. Mark Alford (R-Mo.) said in an interview. “It should not be in any way tied to Israel. These should be separate votes to show our districts exactly where we stand.”

One potential path forward that is under discussion in the Senate would see Ukraine aid lumped together with money to combat illegal immigration — a top GOP priority. But it is unclear whether Democrats will be able to compromise on certain Republican wish-list items that they see as unpalatable to their constituents.

“I want to be frank with you about our problem,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told three administration officials who appeared at last week’s hearing. “People come up to me and say the following: ‘We have five, six thousand people a day crossing our border; we’ve got all these other needs . . . Why is Ukraine important in that context?’”

“I hear that constantly,” Rubio added.

The uncertainty in Congress has prompted the Defense Department to “meter out” the appropriated funds that remain available for Ukraine security assistance, which as of Thursday stood at about $1 billion, said Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman. Recent aid packages have totaled less than $200 million, compared with earlier weapons deliveries that totaled $1 billion or more.

“We’re going to continue to roll out packages,” Singh said. “But they are getting smaller.”

Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Monday that the United States’ ability to “fully fund” Ukraine’s needs “gets harder and harder” with each passing week. “The window is closing,” he told reporters. “If we got the full funding,” the United States could arm the Ukrainians “on a much more certain and consistent basis” to help them win the war, he said.

Ukraine also faces a massive budget deficit of $35 billion for next year, only a third of which is expected to be covered by its other principal backer, the European Union. The former Soviet state has relied on U.S. funding to keep its government operational as Russia attempts to bludgeon its economy. Failure to pass additional U.S. economic aid for Ukraine probably would force the country to cut huge numbers of government workers and services, U.S. officials warned lawmakers last week.

“At this time there is no funding left for direct budget support,” Erin McKee, the assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia at the U.S. Agency for International Development, told senators on the Foreign Relations Committee. “Without further appropriations, the government of Ukraine would need to use emergency measures such as printing money or not paying critical salaries, which could lead to hyperinflation, and severely damage the war effort,” she said.

“Ukraine’s economic stability . . . is as vital as winning the war. If the economy collapses, Putin will have won,” McKee added later.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is among those advocating a path forward that keeps Ukraine aid flowing by packaging it with major new immigration reforms. “For any of this supplemental security funding to pass the Senate, we will also need to implement serious policy changes at the southern border,” he said in remarks last week.

But Senate Democrats have so far resisted some of the Republicans’ key immigration proposals, such as redefining asylum qualifications, completing President Donald Trump’s border wall and requiring the detention of unauthorized migrants until their court hearings. And it is unclear if even a bipartisan Senate deal on immigration and Ukraine could pass the far more conservative House.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) has been assailed by some liberals for his proposal to restrict asylum and enlarge the border wall. They’ve characterized such suggestions as a cynical effort to defeat additional Ukraine funding by linking it to an issue so contentious it could never pass a bitterly divided Congress.

Lankford rejected that notion, telling The Post last week: “This is not an immigration bill. This is a border security bill.”

In the end, though, the competition for finite resources might prove too much for Ukraine aid to survive.

“One of the dangers we face in these three challenges,” Rubio said during last week’s hearing, referring to Israel, Ukraine and the southern border, “is the trade-offs that are going to have to happen. We’re gonna have to make policy decisions, because one of the risks we run is being overextended.”

The administration has maintained that America can and should continue to prioritize support for both conflicts. “The United States,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last month, “can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), a strong supporter of Ukraine aid, said lawmakers have struggled to break through the “sensory overload” among their constituents and make a clear case for urgency while competing “with other important issues, and messages circulating in the ether that can dilute our messages.”

Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, are intensifying their outreach to Republican lawmakers and hoping to dissuade them from leaving their country behind. Andriy Yermak, a top aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky, told an audience Monday at the Hudson Institute think tank that Ukraine’s victory “is not only our strategic interest. It is the interest of the United States as well.”

“Points of instability will arise worldwide until Ukraine prevails,” he warned, pointing to the conflict in the Middle East and tensions in the Balkans. He rebuffed a journalist’s question about what would happen if Congress does not approve more aid. “I don’t believe that’s happening,” he said, noting that he would have “many meetings on the Hill” on Tuesday.

A delegation of Ukrainian faith leaders also has toured the United States pleading for funds, with some in Kyiv hoping their religious message would appeal to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) in particular, who is a devout Baptist.

Johnson has voiced skepticism about continuing the aid to Ukraine. He told the New York Post last week that it would be “eminently responsible” to fund the aid using $300 billion in seized Russian assets, an idea that he said was popular with Republicans. A small group of lawmakers earlier this year proposed using frozen Russian assets to help bolster Ukraine assistance.

Ukraine’s advocates in both parties have struggled to link the crises in Ukraine and Israel as part of a larger, existential struggle of good versus evil, democracies versus autocracies, that must be confronted together.

“I do think they’re linked,” said Young. “There is a ‘rules-based order’” that is under threat by Russia, Hamas, China and others. “And we need somebody to enforce those rules.”

But without a clear understanding of Ukraine’s need and what he called the United States’ essential role ensuring its survival, Young said, “the American people’s position is naturally to retrench.”

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