Who Isn’t Letting US Help Ukraine?*

*Editor’s note: On March 4, 2022, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.

How will the new round of budget warfare play out in Washington?

Once again, Ukraine’s future hangs in the balance as Congress returns from its February recess and makes another try at approving an ill-fated $95 billion aid package, which includes $60 billion in military aid for Kyiv.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Europeans and Ukrainians are praying that U.S. lawmakers approve the legislation. Indeed, it would allow Europe to avoid a situation where Kyiv would need to rely solely on the EU for military and financial support. Meanwhile, for Ukraine, further military aid would help alleviate the artillery shortage and provide some level of reassurance that the front will remain stable in the upcoming months.

However, after numerous failed attempts at different proposals to approve $60 billion in aid to Ukraine since last fall, the outcome looks uncertain.

It’s worth noting that congressional opposition to the bill is not unanimous. The Senate is quite keen on giving Ukraine tens of billions of dollars more in pocket money, and many House members support these proposals. However, a group of far-right conservative Republicans allied with former President Donald Trump remains vehemently opposed to the idea. Although this group only represents a minority in Congress, it is large enough to impose its will on the entire legislative and executive branches of government.

To better understand the current situation, let’s look at some numbers. There are 435 seats in the House of Representatives, and 218 seats are needed for a majority. The Republicans currently have that majority, albeit very narrowly with 219 seats. It’s important to note that out of these 219 seats, at least 43 Republicans belong to the far-right wing of the party known as the Freedom Caucus.

Of course, if the other House Republicans had been more united, they could have ignored the demands of their more radical colleagues.

However, due to the current distribution of seats in the House and the fact that Democrats and Republicans vote strictly along party lines, the Freedom Caucus holds significant power. It can effectively veto any decision the House makes and is not reluctant to exercise this power.

For example, in the fall, members of the Freedom Caucus successfully forced the removal of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy by siding with the Democrats. They then successfully lobbied for a little-known congressman, Mike Johnson, as his replacement, further consolidating the position of the far-right Republicans. Unlike McCarthy, Johnson is merely a puppet of the Freedom Caucus, which regularly reminds him that he can be removed at any time, just like McCarthy before him. Accordingly, Johnson has no choice but to obey their demands.

While the extremist Republicans appear to be dissatisfied with the current Ukraine policy, their motivation has nothing to do with concern for Kyiv. In fact, they couldn’t care less about Ukraine. Instead, they are focused on making Joe Biden’s life as difficult as possible to build Trump’s chances of winning a second presidential term. Because of this, Trump and his supporters are determined to obstruct White House requests to Congress by any means necessary, and far-right Freedom Caucus loyalists are more than willing to help with this task.

A samurai has no goal — only a path. Hence, the Republicans’ logic for blocking aid to Ukraine is simple: The worse things are for Biden, the better for us.

So far, Johnson has refused to even consider bringing the aid package to a vote, and it’s unlikely that he and his allies will suddenly change their minds any time soon. On the contrary, they will delay the proceedings as long as possible and further increase pressure on the White House in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election in November.

However, the opposition still has an ace up its sleeve. Specifically, the House has a procedures whereby lawmakers can bypass the speaker and vote on the bill directly. However, this would require Democrats and Republicans to come together and form a bipartisan majority that would vote in favor of the aid package’s immediate consideration. It’s worth noting that such procedures are relatively rare in American politics because they are difficult to execute successfully.

Nevertheless, given that 213 Democrats are sitting in the House of Representatives, they would only need the support of five more or less moderate Republicans to form a bipartisan majority. Considering that the Republicans are deeply divided, the plan looks fairly feasible. But members of Congress still say the likelihood of this happening is well below average.

Furthermore, Biden could issue an executive order to reallocate some of the defense spending in favor of Ukraine. However, this would require an agreement on the annual spending bills, which Congress has yet to reach for the same reasons Ukraine has yet to receive the $60 billion in aid. Nevertheless, this option may become more feasible if lawmakers can agree on the annual spending bills.

The situation is edging toward a stalemate. It is clear that the far-right Republicans are unwilling to make concessions, while their opponents can still exploit the divisions within the Republican Party to their advantage. As a result, the stakes are very high, which means the battle for aid to Ukraine will be intense and eventful.

The author expresses a personal opinion that may not reflect the views of Gazeta.ru’s editorial board.

About this publication

About Nikita Gubankov 102 Articles
Originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, I've recently graduated from University College London, UK, with an MSc in Translation and Technology. My interests include history, current affairs and languages. I'm currently working full-time as an account executive in a translation and localization agency, but I'm also a keen translator from English into Russian and vice-versa, as well as Spanish into English.

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