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There is growing anxiety about what Tuesday’s US midterm elections could mean for Ukraine and US support for the country, amid fears that a Republican surge could weaken US support for Kiev.
Ukrainian officials and lawmakers are scrutinizing the polls and analyzing the comments of their colleagues.
“We hope, for our sake, that we don’t become a victim of the partisan debate that’s playing out right now in the United States,” Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, a former Ukrainian deputy prime minister and now opposition lawmaker, told POLITICO. “That’s the fear, because we depend very seriously not only on American support, but also on American leadership in sustaining the joint efforts of other nations.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the potential next speaker if Republicans prevail, said last month that there would be no “blank check” for Ukraine if the House returns to Republican control. The Biden administration has tried to quell concerns about the government’s commitment to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, but the populist Republican mood in Congress is calling for less support for Kiev and more attention to US domestic problems.
“I’m worried about the Trump wing of the GOP,” said Mia Willard, a Ukrainian-American who lives and works in Kiev. “I recently read about Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s promise that ‘not a penny will go to Ukraine’ if Republicans regain control of Congress.”
According to the latest polls, Republicans are favored to take over the House and possibly the Senate in Tuesday’s vote.
“I hope that regardless of the election outcome,” Willard said, “there will be a continued bipartisan consensus to support Ukraine in the midst of Russia’s genocide of the Ukrainian people, which I can call nothing but genocide after witnessing firsthand Russia’s war crimes in the country .now occupied territories,” said Willard, a researcher at the International Center for Policy Studies in the Ukrainian capital.
Former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin is confident that US military and financial support for his country will continue beyond the midterms. “I don’t see a critical mass of people among Republicans calling for aid cuts,” he told POLITICO. At the same time, Klimkin acknowledged that the procedure for congressional processing of Ukraine’s aid may become more complex.
Klimkin said he believes the U.S. position on Ukraine is “critical” for Washington beyond the Ukrainian conflict — “not only in terms of Russia, but also in terms of how the United States will be perceived by China.”
For Ukraine, Klimkin said the “real risk” is the debate taking place in Washington on both sides of the aisle about the fact that “the United States is giving much more than all of Europe” to Kiev’s war effort.
According to the Kiel Institute of the World Economy, the United States has brought its total commitments in military, financial and humanitarian aid to over 52 billion euros, while EU countries and institutions combined have reached just over 29 billion euros.
“The US now commits almost twice as much as all EU countries and institutions combined. This is a poor show for the major European countries, especially as many of their pledges arrive in Ukraine with long delays,” said Christoph Trebesch, head of the team , compiling the Kiel Institute’s Ukraine support tracker.
If Republicans prevail in Tuesday’s vote, the fear is also that without U.S. leadership, Ukraine would also slide down Europe’s political agenda, depriving Ukraine of the support it needs for “victory over the Russian monster,” Klympush-Tsintsadze said. .
If the worst did happen and US support weakens after the midterms, Klympush-Tsintsadze said she has some hope that Europe will still stand firm. She has detected in Europe “much more sobriety in the assessment of what Russia is and what it can do, and I hope that there would also be enough voices there in Europe to ensure that there is no weakening of support, ” she said.
Others are less happy about how solid and reliable the Europeans would be without Washington’s bluster and galvanization. Several officials and lawmakers pointed to the Balkan wars of the 1990s and how the Clinton administration stood back and argued for the Europeans to take the lead, only to later intervene diplomatically and militarily.
“We in Ukraine have been closely following developments in the United States and what configuration Congress will have after the midterm elections,” said Iuliia Osmolovska, president of the Transatlantic Dialogue Center and senior fellow at GLOBSEC, a global think tank headquartered in Bratislava.
“This could affect the current determination of the US political establishment to continue supporting Ukraine, primarily militarily. Especially given voices from some Republicans calling for a freeze on aid to Ukraine,” she said.
But Osmolovska remains hopeful, noting that “Ukraine has enjoyed bipartisan support in the war with Russia since the very first days of the invasion in February this year.” She also believes President Joe Biden would have room to act more independently when it comes to military aid to Ukraine without seeking approval from Congress thanks to legislation already on the books.
But she does not rule out “the risk of some exhaustion” from allies, arguing that Ukraine needs to redouble diplomatic efforts to prevent that from happening. What needs to be emphasized, she said, is that “our Western partners only benefit from enabling Ukraine to defeat Russia as quickly as possible” – as a protracted conflict is in no one’s interest.
“There is a feeling in the air that we are winning the war, even though it is far from over,” said Glib Dovgych, a software engineer in Kiev.
“If the flow of money and equipment drops, it will not mean our defeat, but it will mean a much longer war with much greater human losses. And since many other allies look to the United States in their decisions to provide support to us, if the US reduces the scale of its aid, other countries such as Germany, France and Italy are likely to follow suit,” Dovgych said.
Yaroslav Azhnyuk, president and co-founder of Petcube, a technology company that develops smart devices for pets, says “it is obvious that opinions about how to end Russia’s war against Ukraine are being used for internal political competition in the United States”
He worries about the influence on American political opinion also of US-based entrepreneurs and investors, mentioning David Sacks, Elon Musk and Chamath Palihapitiya among others. “They have publicly shared concerns and said that Ukraine should cede Crimea to Russia or that the United States should stop supporting Ukraine to avoid a global nuclear war.”
Azjnyuk added: “I understand, nuclear weapons are scary. But what happens in the next 5-10 years after Ukraine cedes any piece of its territory or the conflict is frozen. Such a scenario would signal to the whole world that nuclear terrorism works.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, said that regardless of the results of the US midterms, Kyiv is “convinced” that bipartisan support for Ukraine will remain in both houses of Congress. Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed their solidarity with Ukraine, and that position will remain “a reflection of the will of the American people,” he said.
The Ukrainian side is counting on America’s leadership on key issues of defense assistance, particularly in terms of expanding the capabilities of the Ukrainian air defense system, financial support, strengthening sanctions against Moscow and recognizing Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, Podolyak told POLITICO.
And this is not only about Ukraine, said Klympush-Tsintsadze, the former deputy prime minister.
“Too many things in the world depend on this war,” she said. “It is not only about restoring our territorial integrity. It is not only about our freedom and our chance for the future, our survival as a nation and our survival as a country – it will have drastic consequences for world geopolitics,” said Klympush-Tsintsadze.