‘Nearly out of time’ to help Ukraine as aid dries up: White House to Congress

Click to play video: 'Ukraine’s Zelenskyy visits US to try and drum up more support'
Ukraine’s Zelenskyy visits US to try and drum up more support
WATCH: After spending time in South America trying to shore up support, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will head to the U.S. for meetings at the White House and Capitol on Tuesday. Zelenskyy has met with U.S. President Joe Biden and Senate leadership before, but this will be his first meeting with Mike Johnson as House Speaker. Reggie Cecchini reports – Dec 11, 2023

The U.S. faces “acute urgency” to approve a new round of aid for Ukraine before current funding runs out by the end of this year, the White House’s budget director told congressional leaders on Monday, adding that failing to do so will “kneecap” Kyiv’s war effort and economic recovery.

The Biden administration has been sounding the alarm for over a month that it is running out of money to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia’s invasion, which is nearing the two-year mark. But the letter sent Monday by U.S. Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young represents the starkest warning yet.

“I want to be clear: without congressional action, by the end of the year we will run out of resources to procure more weapons and equipment for Ukraine and to provide equipment from U.S. military stocks,” Young wrote to Republican and Democrat leaders in the U.S. House and Senate.

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“There is no magical pot of funding available to meet this moment. We are out of money—and nearly out of time.”

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U.S. President Joe Biden asked Congress nearly two months ago to approve a nearly US$106-billion aid package that includes about US$61 billion for Ukraine, alongside money for Israel, the Indo-Pacific and security at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But congressional Republicans are seeking to back up that border security funding with policy changes — including restrictions on asylum seekers and restarting construction on a border wall — and are insisting on tying those to any new Ukraine aid.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson reiterated his party’s position in a statement in response to Young’s letter. He further argued the Biden administration “has failed to substantively address any of my conference’s legitimate concerns about the lack of a clear strategy in Ukraine, a path to resolving the conflict, or a plan for adequately ensuring accountability for aid provided by American taxpayers.”
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“House Republicans have resolved that any national security supplemental package must begin with our own border,” Johnson said. “We believe both issues can be agreed upon if Senate Democrats and the White House will negotiate reasonably.”

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A group of Republican and Democrat senators have been negotiating for weeks on a bipartisan border policy proposal that could be tied to a national security aid bill. That deal is expected to be less extreme than what House Republicans are pushing for, setting up further talks between the two chambers that could further delay passage of legislation.

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In the meantime, Young said in her letter, the US$111 billion approved by Congress to date for Ukraine is drying up fast.

The Pentagon has used 97 per cent of the US$62.3 billion it has received for military assistance, while the U.S. State Department has used all of its own military aid funds, valued at US$4.7 billion.

The Biden administration has stressed that weapons being sent to Ukraine come from existing U.S. military stockpiles. The military aid approved by Congress goes toward replenishing those stocks with new equipment — much of it built in the U.S. and bolstering several state economies — that has “improved our own military readiness,” Young wrote.

In recent weeks, as U.S. aid packages become smaller and more limited while existing funding evaporates, other countries have announced their own aid packages. Germany last month announced 1.3 billion euros ($1.9 billion) in weapons, ammunition and equipment, and pledged to spend up to eight billion euros for Ukraine through 2024. Finland, the Netherlands and Lithuania all announced billions of euros in new defence spending for Kyiv for next year as well.

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But Young said those allies’ efforts will never match U.S. support, which she said is “critical and cannot be replicated by others.”

“If our assistance stops, it will cause significant issues for Ukraine,” she wrote.

“Cutting off the flow of U.S. weapons and equipment will kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield, not only putting at risk the gains Ukraine has made, but increasing the likelihood of Russian military victories.”

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Young added that the U.S. has also depleted its humanitarian and economic assistance funds for Ukraine, which she said was equally important for the country’s war effort and survival beyond the conflict.

“If Ukraine’s economy collapses, they will not be able to keep fighting, full stop,” she wrote, pointing to Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s grain exports and energy infrastructure as part of its offensive strategy.

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Ukraine is entering its second winter facing a renewed Russian onslaught of missile attacks on that infrastructure. Similar attacks last winter plunged millions of Ukrainians into darkness and without heat.

Despite Ukraine having regained up to half of the territory previously seized by Russia, the front lines of the war have barely moved for months despite a highly anticipated counteroffensive this past summer that ran into fierce Russian resistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that the cold winter months will further hinder any progress.

A poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted in November suggested 45 per cent of the U.S. public thinks the country is spending too much on aid to Ukraine, down from 52 per cent in October.

The U.S. has far outpaced the rest of the world in military aid for Ukraine, according to data from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. Yet European countries have spent a much larger percentage of their GDP on that aid, with many surpassing one per cent. Both the U.S. and Canada, which has committed more than $2.4 billion in military assistance since the war began, have spent about 0.3 per cent of their GDP.

Speaking on Monday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan echoed Young’s warning to congressional leaders and underscored the historical implications of failing to act.

“Congress has to decide whether to continue to support the fight for freedom in Ukraine … or whether Congress will ignore the lessons we’ve learned from history and let Putin prevail,” he said.

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“It is that simple. It is that stark of a choice.”

— with files from The Associated Press

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