Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 2 October 2023. © Richard Kemp
The US suspension of additional funding for Ukraine is a totemic moment in this conflict. Even if agreement is reached by Congress to extend financial assistance beyond mid-November, the political manoeuvring that saw Biden’s bid for a $24 million aid package slashed by three-quarters and then ditched altogether expose the immense difficulties the White House will have pushing future tranches through Congress.
That some Republicans were willing to shut down the US government over support for Ukraine is a very bad sign: even if they don’t win the presidency they will likely take control of the Senate next year. Their machinations were being driven by domestic political objectives in the midst of an election campaign rather than purposeful abandonment of the Ukrainian cause. But they must still be seen against the backdrop of the distinct lack of public support for continued backing of Ukraine’s war, with an opinion poll in August showing only 45 per cent of Americans ready to provide additional funding.
The mood against continuing support is significantly stronger among Republican voters who have traditionally been more bullish on foreign policy and use of force, and this shift in perspective is largely down to Donald Trump’s stance on the war. But the blame for imperilling Ukraine as Congress has falls squarely on Biden’s own shoulders. Had he not dragged his heels at every turn, refusing since the beginning to supply essential combat equipment in time or in sufficient numbers, the impact of Congressional recalcitrance would have been blunted.
His fear of antagonising Putin means that the critical long-range missiles have still not arrived, and there is no likelihood of seeing F16s in the skies anytime soon. These and other war-winning assets could easily have been sent in before popular support began to fall away and ahead of electoral politics taking centre stage. Both of these potential hazards were predictable, but rather than acting when the time was ripe, the US president procrastinated and has now brought Kyiv to a point where it’s at risk of being starved.
The effect on the front line may not be immediate, but will certainly be felt soon unless a resolution is arrived at. The impact on morale both on the battlefield and the home front will be crushing. In Ukraine last month I found that discussion of any potential slackening of US support was met with disbelief and an unshakeable faith in their constancy. Civilians and soldiers alike know how much they owe to the American people and understand only too clearly that their future remains in US hands.
The Congressional decision will have the opposite effect in Moscow. A large part of Putin’s current strategy is to wait until Western support begins to fracture, in the meantime using propaganda to hasten it. He may never have wavered in his resolve to crush Ukraine, but some of his henchmen, seeing the strength of Western backing as well as the weakness of Russia’s own forces, certainly have. Whether or not it is eventually resolved, Congress’s domestic politicking is therefore one of the greatest gifts for the Kremlin. Putin will be pleased, too, by the recent election in Slovakia.
There can be no doubt about the courage and fighting spirit of the Ukrainian army and people, but they cannot prevail without the equally unwavering support of their allies – even the staunchest of whom are now showing the frailty that Putin calculated on from the beginning.
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