The limits of US support for Ukraine have not been widely tested in Washington as President Biden delays Kiev’s decision to define the end 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 top-tier request. The new package brings total US support for the war to nearly $54 billion once approved by the Senate.
But as lawmakers scramble to get much-needed help out the door, a small group of lawmakers are asking how the war ends and how much it will cost.
“I think it’s already an evolving mission,” said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. “Before, I think we were trying to prevent the Ukrainians from being defeated. Now, its foreign minister has said in recent days that the aim is to remove Russians from all aspects of the country, including Crimea.”
“You can see how, with different goals, it can be a protracted war,” he said. “It could be ultimately. You can see it’s similar to the 20-year war in Afghanistan.”
President Biden has pledged to support Kiev to the end, promising that Ukraine alone will define its own victory. And the administration is banking on unwavering support for the war in Congress to keep aid flowing.
“We believe Ukraine must 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. market.
“We are committed to supporting Ukraine so that it can prevail in this conflict,” she said. “The tremendous bipartisan support that we have in Congress for the assistance that we are giving, whether it be security assistance, economic assistance, humanitarian assistance, puts us in an extremely strong position to stay the course…, it may continue for some time yet.”
Ukrainian officials have set a high bar in recent public statements calling for the complete expulsion of Russian troops from their territory, including the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014, and the Donbas region, which has remained at a standstill since the same period. .
Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, echoed the administration’s view that the US does not stand in the way of Ukraine’s negotiations, but said he trusts the administration to be engaging with Ukraine to define a clear end state. .
“We are not negotiating for Ukraine,” he said. “They will have to decide.”
“Now, on a diplomatic level, not in a public way, we should talk about what the end state looks like,” he said. “And I trust that our diplomats are doing it.”
While most lawmakers remain steadfast in their support for Ukraine — the latest aid package has received unanimous support from House Democrats and most Republicans — fissures have grown within the GOP over funding the war as it drags on. .
In a speech to the House floor on Wednesday, Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, criticized his colleagues for spending billions more on the war in Ukraine than Congress spends on US Customs and Border Patrol — a refrain. common for some Republicans since tensions began to rise. increase at the border of Ukraine during winter.
He also lamented the “dangerous bipartisan congressional consensus that is leading us to war with Russia.”
Gaetz was one of 57 Republicans to vote against the latest aid package.
Representative Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, was another dissident.
“The idea that we’re going to say ‘here’s $40 billion,’ so you’re going to see the parameters, that’s a blank check,” he said. “I mean, it’s just open-ended.”
Paul blocked the Senate’s attempt to accelerate aid on Thursday because of its attempt to include language in the bill that would create a special inspector general to oversee the disbursement of aid to Ukraine.
During his plenary speech on the measure, he raised further concerns about US war spending amid domestic economic uncertainty.
“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 that we always have to be Uncle Sam, the cop who saves the world, especially when he’s borrowing money.”
Smith said dissent over the aid package is a reflection of a growing divide in the Republican Party, but said it is 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 cry for help, he said it’s not completely out of the question.
“That’s a very difficult question to answer,” he said. “Forty billion dollars is a lot of money. I don’t anticipate another question, but it wouldn’t shock me if it did.”