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Diplomacy Watch: New Ukraine aid not likely this year

Biden tried his hardest to make it a matter of war or peace this week

Reporting | QiOSK

The White House and its allies launched a full-court press to get a supplemental aid package, which included $60 billion for Ukraine, over the finish line this week. Despite this, their effort failed Wednesday night, leaving the fate of funding up in the air.

Earlier on Wednesday, President Joe Biden delivered surprise remarks ahead of the vote, warning that lapsed funding for Kyiv would have dire consequences for Europe and the world.

“If Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there. It’s important to see the long run here. He’s going to keep going. He’s made that pretty clear,” Biden said. “If Putin attacks a NATO Ally — if he keeps going and then he attacks a NATO Ally — well, we’ve committed as a NATO member that we’d defend every inch of NATO territory. Then we’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today: American troops fighting Russian troops.”

This came in the wake of a letter sent to congressional leadership by Shalanda Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, saying that the U.S. is “out of money to support Ukraine in this fight,” and urging them to pass the supplemental before the end of the year.

“Cutting off the flow of U.S. weapons and equipment will kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield,” the letter warned.

But after the Senate vote failed 49-51 on Wednesday the possibility that 2023 comes to an end without Congress passing another tranche of aid for Ukraine appears increasingly likely.

On Thursday, Bloomberg’s Erik Wasson reported on X that lawmakers believe that there is “no way” the House will pass aid this calendar year, with Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) committed to the House leaving by December 15.

While the timeframe for current aid to dry up and the risk of Vladimir Putin expanding the war into Europe may be overstated, the sudden elimination of funding could be problematic nonetheless. As George Beebe of the Quincy Institute cautioned earlier this year, cutting off funding without warning would spell “bad news not only for those insisting on an unconditional Ukrainian victory, but also for those pressing for a diplomatic settlement of the conflict.”

“Avoiding such sobering possibilities will require compromise,” Beebe continued. “The White House will have to compromise with domestic opponents of aid by making clear — at least behind closed doors — its plans for marrying military aid to a viable exit strategy. Opponents of aid will have to compromise with proponents to ensure that Ukraine does not collapse altogether, with all the attendant implications for the West and the world.”

Despite these dynamics, the Biden administration appears unwilling to shift its strategy and its rhetoric.

In a phone call with Reuters this week, national security adviser Jake Sullivan reiterated Washington’s position that it would not pressure Kyiv to enter negotiations with Moscow.

“That's going to have to be up to them,” Sullivan said. “We're just going to keep fighting day in and day out to try to secure this money.”

In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:

—The Washington Post published a detailed analysis on why Ukraine’s recent counteroffensive did not produce the desired results, highlighting, among other critical points, the gap in expectations between Washington and Kyiv.

“U.S. and Ukrainian officials sharply disagreed at times over strategy, tactics and timing. The Pentagon wanted the assault to begin in mid-April to prevent Russia from continuing to strengthen its lines. The Ukrainians hesitated, insisting they weren’t ready without additional weapons and training,” reports the Post. “As the expected launch of the offensive approached, Ukrainian military officials feared they would suffer catastrophic losses — while American officials believed the toll would ultimately be higher without a decisive assault.”

— Russian President Vladimir Putin made a rare overseas trip this week, visiting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The purpose of the trip was to discuss global oil markets and the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine. The visit was partly intended to get arms and win over allies for his war effort, and possibly to “drive a wedge” between the Gulf States and the U.S., according to the Wall Street Journal.

— Top Ukrainian officials came to Washington this week in an effort to bolster Kyiv’s weapon making capabilities. The Ukrainian delegation, which was led by President Zelensky’s adviser Andriy Yermak and Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, met with a number of high-ranking U.S. officials including Jake Sullivan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. The Ukrainians also met with lawmakers once the fight over aid took center stage on Capitol Hill.

“Initially envisioned as a way for the Ukrainians to forge new contacts and commitments with the U.S. defense industry to bolster Kyiv’s ability to build its own weapons, the meetings have taken on a deeper importance as the Biden administration pressures Congress to pass a $60 billion aid package, and as questions swirl over next steps in the war,” reportedPolitico on Tuesday.

Zelensky was also scheduled to address the U.S. Senate virtually on Tuesday, but he abruptly canceled his remarks shortly before the meeting. The meeting proceeded and eventually descended into chaos, according to multiple reports. “A classified briefing with administration officials called to shore up support devolved into a partisan screaming match on Tuesday afternoon, with Republicans angrily accusing Democrats of trying to steamroller over their demands for a border crackdown,” reported the New York Times.

U.S. State Department news:

— In a Wednesday press briefing, State Department spokesman Matt Miller reacted to that Senate meeting, at which Secretary of State Antony Blinken was present.

“I think the Secretary found it to be a frank and candid exchange of views on the Hill, mostly between members of the Senate, not involving the administration,” Miller said. “But as we made clear in the statement we issued today about the drawdown package, we have nearly exhausted the available security assistance that is available to Ukraine. It is urgent that Congress act to support Ukraine; it is urgent that Congress act to support democracy.”

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