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Ukraine Aid Window 'Closing' As U.S. Congress Drags Feet On New Package

U.S. military aid to Ukraine in October under the Presidential Drawdown Authority was the lowest in nearly a year and a half. November may be worse.
U.S. military aid to Ukraine in October under the Presidential Drawdown Authority was the lowest in nearly a year and a half. November may be worse.

WASHINGTON -- 325, 200, 150, 125. The downward trend is clear.

The numbers represent the millions of dollars in military aid distributed to Ukraine during the past four U.S. weapon drawdown rounds from September 21 through November 3. October’s total of $350 million was the lowest monthly figure in nearly a year and half.

The U.S. Congress has been unable to pass a new Ukraine aid bill since September as Republican support wanes, forcing the Biden administration to curtail the size of the fortnightly military equipment shipments to the embattled country. That is raising concerns that Ukraine’s performance on the battlefield could soon be impacted. The United States is by far Ukraine’s largest supplier of weapons.

Congress this week approved a supplementary spending bill to keep the U.S. government open that once again failed to include new funding for Ukraine, triggering dire warnings from the White House.

“Each week that passes [without a new bill], our ability to fully fund what we feel is necessary to give Ukraine the tools and capacities it needs to both defend its territory and to continue to make advances, that gets harder and harder,” White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on November 13.

Ukraine is struggling to drive Russian forces off its territory as Moscow attempts to overcome Western sanctions aimed at undermining its military industrial complex and mobilizes more and more men for the war effort.

White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan: “The window is closing.”
White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan: “The window is closing.”

Kyiv has pleaded to its Western backers for modern fighter jets, long-range missiles, air-defense systems and ammunition to help it overcome an enemy with far greater resources. The failure of the United States to come through with new aid would severely shake the Western coalition supporting Ukraine and embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin, experts say.

Amid the intense U.S. congressional debates this week over spending, Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s closest adviser, traveled to Washington to press Kyiv's case for more aid, meeting with White House officials and lawmakers. He also spoke on November 13 at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank, to get his message across to a Republican audience.

The right wing of the Republican party has been the gatekeeper to more Ukrainian aid. Congress last approved funding for Ukraine in December 2022, when it passed the annual U.S. spending bill that contained $45 billion in military, financial, and humanitarian aid for the country. The funding was expected to run out by September 30.

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As that date approached, Biden in August submitted a supplemental spending bill that included an additional $24 billion for Ukraine to get the country through early 2024, while U.S. lawmakers continued to debate the annual spending bill.

That proposal was soon watered down to $6 billion but did not pass, as a faction of Republicans in the House of Representatives tied any new Ukraine aid to greater U.S. border security funding, which Democrats strongly oppose. The Republicans control the House.

The Biden administration still has about $5 billion in military aid it can tap for Ukraine under the Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA), according to the Defense Department. The PDA is a policy tool that allows the president to quickly transfer weapons and equipment from Defense Department stocks to a foreign country.

The Defense Department then replenishes its stock with new orders using the Ukraine aid allocated by Congress. However, there is only about $1.1 billion remaining, raising questions whether the administration will use the full drawdown authority if a new aid bill isn’t passed in time.

Mark Cancian, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told RFE/RL it could be tough politically to tap the full amount. Some voices could contend it endangers U.S. national security to disperse equipment that may not be quickly restocked, he said.

However, he said the Pentagon could choose to send equipment it doesn’t intend to replace, such as the M113, the Vietnam War-era armored personnel carrier that the United States stopped buying in 2006, and the M198 howitzer, the precursor to the M777 model that has already been sent to Ukraine.

The United States has on average dispensed about $1.2 billion a month in military aid under the PDA to Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022. However, monthly aid has been less than $500 million since August as funding dries up.

The remaining PDA -- if fully tapped -- could keep military aid flowing to Ukraine into February, Cancian said.

He said the Pentagon could also “reprogram” -- or redesignate -- some of its own budget money for Ukraine’s needs.

Politico last month reported, citing unnamed sources, that the Biden administration might use State Department grant money for weapons purchases for Ukraine, as well as reprogram Pentagon budget money should a new Ukraine aid bill fail to pass in time.

Sullivan said the dearth of aid “is already having an effect on our ability to give Ukraine everything that it needs,” and that it would only worsen with time.

“The window is closing,” he said.

$61 Billion Package

Biden on October 19 addressed the nation for only the second time during his nearly three years in office to rally public support for aid to Ukraine and Israel, which was attacked weeks earlier by Hamas, designated as a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

A day later, he submitted a $106 billion national-security spending package that would provide emergency funding for Ukraine and Israel as well as for measures to counter a growing Chinese military threat in Asia. It also included funding to address the surge in illegal immigration through the U.S.-Mexico border, a key Republican request.

Ukraine would receive the lion’s share -- $61 billion -- an amount large enough to cover the country’s needs through 2024, a crucial U.S. election year with future aid sure to be a key topic of debate. The Biden administration has already allocated $113 billion for Ukraine since the start of the war.

U.S. public support for Ukraine, especially among Republicans, has waned as the war drags on with no end in sight and as former President Donald Trump campaigns for the 2024 election. Trump, who is currently the leading Republican candidate to challenge Biden, has not come out in support of Ukraine, and Republican voters and lawmakers appear to be taking their cue from him, experts say.

The House Republicans who have blocked new Ukraine aid are largely Trump supporters.

A majority of lawmakers in both chambers of Congress support more aid for Ukraine, but the Republican right-wing minority has wielded outsized influence in the debate.

Senator Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) told reporters this week that the Senate will reconvene after November 23 to consider the Biden administration’s $106 spending bill.

Even if it passes the upper chamber, it will face a tougher fight in the House, with some Republicans demanding separate votes on aid to each country.

Cancian said he expects Congress to eventually approve additional aid to Ukraine.

However, he said the amount could be significantly less than what the administration is seeking, with financial aid, the target of Republican ire, taking the brunt of the hit.

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    Todd Prince

    Todd Prince is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington, D.C. He lived in Russia from 1999 to 2016, working as a reporter for Bloomberg News and an investment adviser for Merrill Lynch. He has traveled extensively around Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia.

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