How US policy toward Ukraine might change if Republicans regain control of Congress

How US policy toward Ukraine might change if Republicans regain control of Congress

Ukrainian soldiers

Ukrainian soldiers fire mortars in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on October 25. (Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy/Reuters)

If Republicans regain control of one or both houses of Congress in the midterm elections, the implications for American foreign policy in Ukraine could be profound.

On October 18, just weeks after the US announced it was sending another $1.1 billion in military funding to Ukraine, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made it clear that Republican majorities in both chambers would signal possible changes to future payments.

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

Other Republicans have been outspoken in their opinion that the US should stop military aid to Ukraine, with Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene characterizing such funding as a “money laundering scheme.” She and other far-right lawmakers insisted that America was facing more pressing priorities, such as securing the US-Mexico border.

According to Politico, Biden’s aides predict that funds will continue to flow to Kiev, although perhaps on a smaller scale. That uncertainty is one reason lawmakers are reportedly considering passing a new bailout package on the floor of Congress that would make the latest $12 billion bailout approved in September look like “pocket change,” as an unnamed Republican told the senator NBC News.

An estimate of US aid to Ukraine by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy on October 11 was $52 billion, including more than $27 billion in military aid and close to $25 billion in humanitarian and economic aid. On October 28, the Biden administration provided an additional $275 million in military aid to Kyiv.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Several experts who spoke to Yahoo News said aid to Ukraine would not change significantly if Republicans took control of the funds, although some acknowledged that non-military funding could be affected.

“Both parties have strong majorities in favor of supporting Ukraine,” said Stephen Sestanovich, the George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “There may be more pretense of oversight and more control over the mix of aid that Ukraine receives,” he added. “But the big change? Don’t count on it.”

Jon Lieber, managing director for the U.S. at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, offered a similar perspective, saying McCarthy’s statement had been largely misinterpreted by the media. “They’re worlds away from saying they’re not going to get any check.”

The bottom line for Lieber is that Congress will have more members “who are openly skeptical of the US making a broad, open commitment to the defense of Ukraine.” But this seems unlikely to prompt a collapse in support for Ukraine.

“They will be effective in forcing greater oversight, placing conditions on aid and demanding an exit strategy from the administration,” Lieber said, “but they will not be effective in preventing the US from supporting Ukraine.”

And Reuters/Ipsos survey released on October 5 found that 73% of Americans support continued funding for Ukraine. But that support appears to be waning among Republicans. Pew Research survey in September found that 32% of Republican voters said the U.S. was giving too much aid to Kiev, up 23 points from when the same question was asked in March.

While GOP support for funding the Ukrainian government appears to be softening among some members of Congress, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been steadfast in his support for Kiev.

Joe Biden

President Biden at the White House on Wednesday. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

“The overwhelming majority of us, myself included, consider defeating the Russians in Ukraine a high priority,” McConnell said DefenseNews in an interview in mid-September.

The midterms could usher in a new crop of isolationist Republicans, however, such as JD Vance, the GOP candidate for Senate in Ohio.

“I think we’re at a point where we’ve given enough money in Ukraine,” Vance said recently interview. “We cannot finance a long-term military conflict that I think ultimately has diminishing returns for our own country.”

However, if Ukraine continues to see military gains on the ground against Russia, that reluctance could become a more complex political position.

“If Ukraine loses ground to the Russians, you will see Republicans in Congress demanding that the administration do more,” Sestanovic noted. “You may even notice increased support.”

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, insisted that military aid was unlikely to change significantly. “I don’t see a more aggressive or bigger effort,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll be able to shave too much off her either.”

“Given that this populist group on the right will be larger and perhaps part of the majority, I think it would be difficult to expand military aid,” Cancian added. “One place where aid is vulnerable is not military aid but economic aid.”

Ukrainian officials did allegedly he insisted to Republicans in Washington that aid must continue to go beyond military aid to include economic support. The country faces numerous financial challenges, from paying for its war effort amid greatly reduced economic activity to rebuilding critical infrastructure.

Agricultural machinery lies in ruins after it was destroyed during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces

Agricultural machinery lies in ruins after it was destroyed during fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces, Kharkiv, Ukraine, on October 23. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

On Monday, Russia hit Ukraine’s electricity grid and water supply with dozens of targeted missile strikes, leaving many without power and water.

“In terms of infrastructure, because of the impact on the power grid, we’re seeing impacts in terms of water systems, water treatment, things like that, affecting civilian access to water,” a senior Pentagon official told reporters Monday.

The strikes epitomize Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, which includes ongoing efforts against military and civilian targets. For Ukrainians, this makes economic support an indispensable part of the aid mix.

Speaking to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at a virtual Yale forum on October 28, Senator Lindsay Graham assured that Republican support for the war effort was steadfast. “Things will work out,” he said, predicting a “strong package of military and economic aid” in the near future.

A new group of Republican politicians see Graham and McConnell as neoconservatives whose foreign policy ideas are outdated. It remains to be seen how that difference of opinion on funding Ukraine’s war effort might play out if the party regains control of Congress.

“To my Republican colleagues who don’t want a blank check: That’s fine, I’ll be happy to sit down with you to make sure the money goes where it needs to go,” Graham said at the Yale forum. “But I promise you a majority of Republican senators [is] fully committed to seeing this through.”

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