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    Monday, January 30, 2023

    Memo to the new Congress: Ukraine needs your help, not your grandstanding

    When Vladimir Putin unleashed Russia’s military might on Ukraine in February, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy was incensed. Just like the rest of America.

    “Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is reckless and evil,” McCarthy said on the day of the invasion. “The United States stands with the people of Ukraine and prays for their safety and resolve. Putin’s actions must be met with serious consequence. This act of war is intended to rewrite history and, more concerning, upend the balance of power in Europe. Putin must be held accountable for his actions.”

    Those were strong words — the right words.

    Recently, however, the California Republican who soon will take over as House speaker expressed a demonstrably different tone when speaking about the continuation of U.S. financial support for Ukraine.

    “I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine,” McCarthy told Punchbowl News in October. “They just won’t do it … It’s not a free blank check.”

    Why the marked shift? That’s easy to discern.

    With the likelihood that the GOP would assume control of the House, even if by a slim majority, the party’s leadership understood that there would be ultraconservatives in the chamber questioning the need to buoy Ukraine, particularly with nonmilitary financial backing.

    Donald Trump loyalist Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right representative from Georgia, recently told Trump fans in Iowa that “under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine.” And Ohio Republican J.D. Vance, who was just elected to the Senate, said during the campaign that Congress must “stop the money spigot to Ukraine eventually.”

    Even progressive Democrats are showing symptoms of Ukraine fatigue. The leader of the Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., released a letter in October signed by 30 Democratic lawmakers that urged the Biden administration to begin pursuing a diplomatic resolution with Russia to end the war in Ukraine.

    “But as legislators responsible for the expenditure of tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in military assistance in the conflict,” the ill-considered letter stated, “we believe such involvement in this war also creates a responsibility for the United States to seriously explore all possible avenues, including direct engagement with Russia, to reduce harm and support Ukraine in achieving a peaceful settlement.”

    After the letter triggered a furious feud within the Democratic Party, Jayapal withdrew the letter — a futile gesture since the progressives’ sentiments had already been made clear.

    Ukraine fatigue was bound to happen sooner or later. And in January, with the GOP taking the helm in the House, bids by the Biden administration to ramp up tranches of aid for Ukraine might be in jeopardy.

    Both GOP conservatives and progressive Democrats need to stiffen up their spines and remember what’s at stake. Curtailing aid to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government would mark a disastrous turn of events, not just for Ukraine but for the entire international community.

    The timing for all this hemming and hawing by some in Congress couldn’t be worse. Ukraine just carried out one of the most significant battlefield victories in the nearly nine-month war, with its triumph in the southern city of Kherson. The retreat of Russian troops earlier this month from the war-ruined city made the Kremlin’s claim that Kherson is Russian territory seem all the more preposterous.

    Russia’s defeat in Kherson added strong evidence to the notion that Ukraine has the upper hand against Putin’s illegal, ruinous invasion, and it isn’t lost on the international community that Kyiv’s momentum has been fueled by robust military and economic aid from Europe and the U.S. That momentum would be imperiled by any rollback in financial help to the Zelenskyy government.

    There’s an even more urgent reason to ensure that Western aid to Ukraine continues unabated. Though Russia continues to lose on the battlefield, the Kremlin is ratcheting up its brutal onslaught on critical Ukraine infrastructure. Russian drone and missile strikes have forced Kyiv to impose rolling blackouts across the country. Recent missile strikes left as many as 4.5 million Ukrainians without electric power.

    Russia’s war plan entails not just defeating Ukraine’s military, but decimating both the country’s economy and its spirit. Despite the battlefield gains Ukraine has made, the country remains ensnared in an extremely vulnerable moment, on the cusp of a winter potentially without heat and power, and an economy drastically weakened by Russian missile barrages.

    What will assist Ukraine through this perilous period is an unwavering commitment from the U.S. and Europe to provide military and economic aid.

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