The limits of US support for Ukraine are largely untested in Washington as President Biden looks to kyiv to define the final state of the war.
The House this week approved a new $40 billion military and economic aid package for Ukraine, adding $7 billion to the White House’s main request. The new package brings total US support for the war to almost $54 billion once approved by the Senate.
But as lawmakers scramble to get much-needed help out, a small group of lawmakers ask how the war will end and how much it will cost.
“I think it’s already an evolving mission,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. “Before, I think we were trying to prevent the Ukrainians from being defeated. Now his foreign minister said in the last day or two that the goal is to get the Russians out of every aspect of the country, including Crimea.”
“You could see how with different objectives it could be a protracted war,” he said. “Ultimately, it could be. You could see it was similar to the 20-year war in Afghanistan.”
President Biden promised to stand by kyiv at all times and promised that only Ukraine will define its own victory. And the administration has unwavering support for the war in Congress to keep aid flowing.
“We believe that Ukraine should define what victory means and our policy is trying to ensure Ukraine’s success,” Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday. .
“We are committed to supporting Ukraine so that it can prevail in this conflict,” he said. “The tremendous bipartisan support that we have in Congress for the assistance that we have provided, whether it is security assistance, economic assistance, humanitarian assistance, puts us in an extremely strong position to stay the course… as this war looks, tragically, may continue for some time to come.”
Ukrainian officials have set the bar very high in recent public statements, calling for the complete expulsion of Russian troops from their territory, including in the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the Donbas region, which has been in a deadlock since. the same period.
Rep. Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, echoed the administration’s view that the United States is not standing in the way of the Ukraine negotiations, but said that he hopes the administration will engage with Ukraine to define a clear end state. .
“We are not negotiating for Ukraine,” he said. “They are going to have to decide.”
“Now on a diplomatic level, not in a public way, we should have conversations about what the end state looks like,” he said. “And I trust our diplomats are doing it.”
While most lawmakers remain steadfast in their support for Ukraine — the latest aid package won unanimous support from House Democrats and most Republicans — fissures have widened within the GOP over funding. of the war as it progresses.
In a speech in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, criticized his colleagues for spending billions more on the war in Ukraine than Congress spends on US Customs and Border Patrol. , a common refrain from some Republicans since the tensions began. increase on the Ukrainian border during the winter.
He also lamented the “dangerous bipartisan consensus in Congress that is leading us to war with Russia.”
Gaetz was one of 57 Republicans who voted against the latest aid package.
Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, was another dissenter.
“The idea that we’re going to say ‘here’s $40 billion,’ then you see the parameters, it’s a blank check,” he said. “I mean, it’s just an open ending.”
On Thursday, Paul blocked the Senate’s attempt to speed up aid over his attempt to include language in the bill that would create a special inspector general to oversee the disbursement of aid to Ukraine.
During his speech on the measure, he raised further concerns about US spending for the war amid economic uncertainty at home.
“My oath of office is to the US Constitution, not to any foreign nation… We cannot save Ukraine by condemning the US economy,” Paul said. “It’s not like we always have to be Uncle Sam, the cop who saves the world, particularly when it comes to borrowed money.”
Smith said the dissent over the relief package is a reflection of a growing divide in the GOP, but said it was notable that far more Republicans supported the package than did not.
Still, Smith acknowledged that the US’s ability to support Ukraine “is not unlimited.” And while he doesn’t expect another request for help, he said it’s not completely ruled out.
“That is a very difficult question to answer,” he said. “Forty billion dollars is a lot of money. I don’t anticipate another question, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.”