Ukraine’s closest European allies are increasingly concerned about the U.S.’s ability to sustain support for Kyiv amid a thorny political spending debate ahead of next year’s presidential elections.
Senior officials from Baltic nations expressed disquiet in interviews about tensions over funding in the U.S. Congress that threaten to leave Ukraine without sufficient aid to beat back Russia’s invasion, as a slower-than-expected counteroffensive grinds to a stalemate.
“I am concerned about the internal political debate in the U.S. about this,” Latvian Foreign Minister Krisjanis Karins said of support for Ukraine. “It seems that some of the debaters are forgetting the importance to American security of maintaining their leading role in the world and in NATO,” he said in Brussels this week.
The White House has asked lawmakers to approve over $61 billion in additional assistance for Ukraine for the current fiscal year as part of a nearly $106 billion overall package that includes funding for Israel, operations on the U.S.-Mexico border, and bolstering allies in the Indo-Pacific.
But the request faces a difficult path as a growing group of hard-line Republicans have voiced opposition to providing additional aid, led by former President Donald Trump. The front-runner for the party’s nomination again in 2024, Trump has repeatedly criticized lawmakers for providing assistance to Ukraine instead of spending the money on domestic priorities.
“The U.S. has enough military power to help Israeli armed forces and also Ukraine, but at the moment it seems that it’s more domestic politics, which affects U.S. decisions, not the real situation on the battlefields,” Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur said in a separate interview.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pevkur said, is benefiting as global focus has shifted toward the Israel-Hamas war and “the U.S. is struggling with their own decisions.” He urged the U.S. to act as it “has always been the guarantee of the free democratic world.”
Moderate Republicans have requested additional information about Ukraine’s military planning and audits of existing aid, while others say they want the administration to implement harsher immigration policies and resume construction of Trump’s border wall in exchange for additional assistance. Some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have proposed a complex scheme in which the U.S. would sell assets seized from Russian oligarchs and use the proceeds to fund Ukraine assistance.
House Speaker Mike Johnson did not include any emergency aid for Ukraine nor for Israel in a funding bill under consideration this week on Capitol Hill that would keep the government fully operating through January.
White House officials have warned that they are already rationing the last remnants of aid for Kyiv. Funding delays are “already having an effect on our ability to give the Ukraine everything that it needs,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday. “And that effect will only compound over time.”
Even as the Pentagon has started throttling military assistance to Ukraine due to funding delays, it has quietly ramped up military aid to Israel, Bloomberg reported Tuesday. The Defense Department is delivering on requests made by Israel, including 155mm shells — a kind of artillery ammunition also desperately sought after by Ukrainian forces.
Latvia’s Karins said if the U.S. aid for Ukraine doesn’t pass, “the first country to feel the negative consequences of that would be the U.S. itself because it would lead many to pose some rather fundamental questions about U.S. commitment to current world order.”
Karins said it was relatively cheaper for U.S. taxpayers to support Ukraine, as it would just be a matter of time before Moscow would look to expand elsewhere. Baltic nations have long warned of Russian attempts to claw back territory following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The concern over the U.S. funding gap for Ukraine comes as the European Union itself is struggling to agree to different pots of money for Kyiv, in particular due to resistance by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Meanwhile, a goal to send Ukraine 1 million artillery shells by the end of March is falling flat, despite weapons production increasing in Europe.
EU countries are considering a backup plan to push through aid for Ukraine in case Hungary vetoes a current €50 billion ($54.3 billion) package. Plans for a separate €20 billion fund over four years to reimburse E.U. nations for military aid sent to Kyiv is also stalling.
But both Karins and Pevkur expressed optimism the E.U. would ultimately agree to additional support. “I believe we have to find a consensus here at the end of the day,” Pevkur said. “We don’t have time to be honest.”
(—With assistance from Andra Timu, Ania Nussbaum, Michael Nienaber, Julius Domoney and Daryna Krasnolutska)