Since February 24, the Ukrainian armed forces have successfully defended much of their country. But without American help, the Ukrainian military campaign would likely have foundered months ago. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US has provided the bulk of military aid to Ukraine, along with massive financial and humanitarian assistance.
With the US midterm elections set to take place on November 8, both the administration of President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy fear that these channels of support for Ukraine will diminish significantly.
The economic effects of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, such as rising energy prices, have taken a toll on American voters, and recent polls show American support for the war is declining, especially among Republicans. According to the Pew Research Center, belief that the US is giving Ukraine too much support increased among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents from 9% in March to 32% in September.
While the US economy is in relatively good shape compared to much of the rest of the world, Republicans have exploited domestic economic concerns to undermine Biden and the Democrats for months. And while many influential Republicans, such as Senator Lindsey Graham, continue to express strong support for Ukraine, others aligned with the Tea Party and former US President Donald Trump form the increasingly vocal “isolationist wing” of the GOP.
The influence of this populist group has been reflected in the growing divide between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, both of whom recently sparred over the issue of aid to Ukraine. . In May, 57 House Republicans voted against Ukraine’s $40 billion aid package, and in mid-October McCarthy warned that the United States “is not going to write Ukraine a blank check.” With electoral polls predicting a Republican majority in the House, future aid packages to Ukraine are likely to face increased Republican resistance.
Support for NATO and Ukraine among Trump-leaning Republicans has traditionally been low. Trump mocked NATO throughout his 2016 presidential campaign and presidency, and his July 2019 phone call with Zelenskiy led to the first official efforts to impeach him. Florida Republican Governor and Trump ally Ron DeSantis also felt comfortable enough to ignore calls to withdraw his state’s $300 million investments in Russia shortly after the war began.
Unfortunately for Kyiv, Democratic support for Ukraine has also declined, according to the Pew Research Center poll from September, as anxiety over the economy, abortion access and other issues has increased. Another Pew Research Center poll from October found that the economy is the top issue for voters heading into the midterm elections.
Biden’s explanation of rising inflation as “Putin’s gas price hike” has only reinforced the notion in the minds of some voters that US-led sanctions against Moscow and support for Ukraine have been in vain. party responsible for their economic pain.
And on October 24, 30 members of the progressive caucus in the US House of Representatives sent a letter to Joe Biden urging him to hold direct talks with Russia and end the war. While the letter was retracted the next day, it further demonstrated Ukraine’s falling support for the left in the US.
Any significant drop in US assistance to Ukraine (the US has provided more than €52 billion in military, humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine from January 24 to October 3) will severely affect the latter’s ability to defend itself. . According to Christoph Trebesch, head of the team compiling the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Ukraine Support Tracker, “The US is now committing nearly twice as much as all EU countries and institutions combined.”
The UK has led major European efforts to defend Ukraine and is on track to train up to 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers on its own soil this year. But the UK is experiencing political destabilization following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September and the resignation of two prime ministers in less than two months. These events have inhibited the British government’s ability to form a coherent foreign policy and expand its support for Ukraine.
Furthermore, the UK has its own disputes with the EU regarding Brexit and is unlikely to rally many of the EU states to join its efforts to support Ukraine without strong US coordination.
The EU has sent billions of euros of financial aid to Ukraine since the start of the conflict, but much less humanitarian and military aid. Bilateral military aid from Ukraine’s largest EU suppliers (France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland) fell significantly from the end of April 2022, with no new military pledges made in July. Large-scale European military assistance only resumed after the launch of the successful Ukrainian offensive that has recaptured much of the territory since early September.
However, around the same time (September 5), EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that member states’ arms stocks were “seriously ‘depleted'” after months of supplying arms to Ukraine, reinforcing the perception of the EU’s inability to provide weapons in the long term. military support to Kyiv.
On October 17, the EU formed its own military training program for Ukrainian soldiers. France declared that it would train 2,000 on its soil, while other EU members will train another 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers. Although unlikely to coincide with NATO-led initiatives, the latest round of EU sanctions against Russia, which was approved on October 5, demonstrates Europe’s commitment to maintaining pressure on Russia.
However, a drastic increase in EU aid to Ukraine and a confrontation with Russia remain unlikely. Poland, the main member state advocating these policies, was the largest recipient of EU funds between 2007 and 2020, and will not be able to join the bloc for these purposes on its own. And with Europe’s energy costs rising, the ability of EU countries to maintain, let alone increase, their support for Ukraine may also come under much more pressure soon.
As in the US, much of Europe’s political right (as well as leftist political elements) is already far less enthusiastic about maintaining support for Ukraine than the political mainstream. Citing economic pain at home, fueled in part by rising energy costs, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has led continental criticism of Russian sanctions since the invasion. from Ukraine. His enthusiastic reception at the Conservative Political Action Conference on August 4 in Dallas, Texas, shows that these policies have not caused much concern in the Republican Party.
With the threat of reduced support from the US and Europe, Ukraine’s ability to contain Russia will be significantly weakened in 2023. While the majority of UN members voted to condemn Russia for its invasion, only the Western allies such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have chosen to sanction Russia and help Ukraine. This is unlikely to change, particularly if pressure from Washington and Brussels eases.
With newly elected and re-elected representatives in the 2022 US midterms not taking office until January 2023, the Biden administration appears intent on using this window to increase its support for Kyiv. Lawmakers have begun discussing a $50 billion aid package for Ukraine that is expected to end in January.
One problem with this strategy is that winter weather risks stalling Ukraine’s fall offensive. Any potential Russian counteroffensive can wait until the northern hemisphere spring, and Ukraine’s needs may have changed by then. Russia has changed its strategy throughout the war, including reinforcing the use of artillery, Iranian drones and other weapons. The first of some 300,000 Russian reservists and volunteers is expected to arrive in Ukraine soon, allowing Russia to change strategy once again.
By then, the war would be over a year old, and US public and political support would likely have dwindled even further. Having already provided more than €52 billion in military, humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine since January 24, Washington is unlikely to provide Ukraine with larger aid packages until the US domestic economic situation improves.
Whether the Republicans win the House or the Senate remains to be seen. And if Ukrainian forces manage to recapture a significant amount of territory from Russia in the coming months, then current levels of US support could mostly hold, even if Republicans gain control of either chamber. congressional.
Nonetheless, it may be prudent for Kyiv to prepare for a larger US aid package and focus on maintaining support for current sanctions while requesting more help from Europe. While the Ukrainian military may not mount new major offensives for the foreseeable future, it is possible that they will be able to prevent the Russian military from doing so.
This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. John P Ruehl is an Australian-American journalist. He is a contributing editor to Strategic Policy and to various other foreign affairs publications. He is finishing a book on Russia to be published in 2022.