By RFE RL
By Todd Prince
(RFE/RL) — In August, when President Joe Biden’s administration proposed sending $24 billion in additional aid to Ukraine, it looked like it would once again breeze through Congress, albeit with a few more dissenting voices than previous packages.
However, a minority group of hard-right Republicans in the House of Representatives torpedoed the aid by tying its approval to an increase in funding for the security of the U.S. southern border, a request that many Democrats opposed.
And when Congress passed stopgap spending legislation to avert a U.S. government shutdown at the end of September, it included nothing for Ukraine. Days later, the prospects for new funding to help Kyiv battle the Russian invasion grew dimmer with the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who had been expected to propose separate legislation on aid for Ukraine.
A week later, the landscape has shifted again. Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israel on October 7, killing more than 1,000 people and igniting a horrific new conflict that has drawn the world’s attention away from Ukraine at a time when the appetite of people and politicians in the West for spending to back Kyiv against the Russian onslaught has been flagging.
But in Washington, the conflagration in Israel has opened a potential new path to securing additional support for Ukraine. The White House is reportedly working with pro-Ukrainian members of Congress to link military aid to Israel with funding for Ukraine and for Taiwan, which faces the potential threat of military action by China.
Israel enjoys wide bipartisan support in Congress, so a package that included aid to both Israel and Ukraine would be almost certain to pass, experts say.
“It makes sense for the administration to pair aid for Ukraine with aid for Israel,” Mark Cancian, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told RFE/RL. “Israel has a lot more bipartisan support right now, so it might help push the Ukrainian aid along.”
The problem is getting an aid bill to the House floor for a vote. The eight hard-right Republicans who voted along with Democrats to oust McCarthy — a move initiated by one of the eight, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida — all oppose aid to Ukraine.
A new House speaker could be elected this week, though bitter competition could mean more time is needed. Frontrunners for the post have widely varying views on support for Ukraine – and whoever prevails potentially faces the same threat that McCarthy faced in connection with any bill containing aid for Ukraine.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has said she opposes linking aid to Israel and Ukraine, as have several other members of the hard-right Republican faction.
That group is opposed by fellow party members such as Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate and an ardent Ukraine supporter who called on Congress to pass a spending bill allocating aid to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan, in an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on October 9, writing that “there is still time to act.”
The United States has provided Ukraine with more than $45 billion in military aid since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, and U.S. stockpiles of some arms and ammunition have been running low.
Low stocks of 155-millimeter shells were a factor in a decision to send Ukraine cluster munitions this summer.
Hamas’s invasion, the deadliest attack on Israel in nearly 50 years, has raised questions about whether the United States can support both Israel and Ukraine with military aid in the short term as it tries to crank up output.
Charles Kupchan, former senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council under President Barack Obama, told RFE/RL that it will depend on what Israel needs, how much, and whether it is the same items Ukraine is requesting.
“I think there is some overlap between aid to Israel and aid to Ukraine but not a lot,” said Cancian. “The areas of overlap are in some of the precision munitions. A lot depends on how long the war in the Middle East goes on and at what level of intensity.”
Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a vocal backer of Ukraine, told Fox News on October 10 that Israel needs 155-millimeter artillery, precision guided missiles, and the Iron Dome, a short-range air defense system.
In addition to 155-millimeter ammunition, Ukraine also receives precision-guided missiles and has requested Iron Dome batteries but never obtained Israeli consent. The Iron Dome is jointly produced by the United States and Israel and requires the permission of both governments to be delivered to a third country.
One Or Both?
Those items are only a small portion of overall U.S. military aid to Ukraine — but lawmakers who are looking to curtail assistance to Ukraine may try to use the overlap to strengthen their argument, said Daniel Vajdich, president of Yorktown Solutions, a Washington-based firm that lobbies on behalf of Ukraine.
Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri who opposes aid to Kyiv, saidin an October 9 post on X, formerly Twitter, that “any funding for Ukraine should be redirected to Israel immediately.”
The United States still has about $5 billion in military funding for Ukraine available under the aid package passed in December 2022, and announced on October 11 that it would be tapping that reserve to send $200 million in fresh aid.
George Barros, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, told RFE/RL the United States could meet both Ukrainian and Israeli needs “if it has the political will to commit.”
Rajan Menon, a political science professor at The City College of New York, agreed, saying the United States has the capacity to meet the requests of both nations, as the dollar amount is small compared to more than $800 billion allocated in the annual budget to the Department of Defense.
“The real problem is political: The reservoir of support in Congress for aid to Israel is inexhaustible. But support for continued, open-ended assistance to Ukraine is declining,” Menon told RFE/RL.
Vajdich told RFE/RL that, while some U.S. lawmakers are likely to contend that the United States should prioritize Israel and Taiwan at the expense of aid to Ukraine, those who advocate strong support for Ukraine may attempt to connect the two conflicts through the nexus of Iran.
‘Drones Of Death’
McConnell hinted at this in his WSJ article, writing that the “same Iranian drones of death Tehran has provided to its terrorist proxies” — a reference to Hamas, in part — “are being used by Russia to inflict terror on Ukraine’s cities.”
Russia has made ample use of Iranian drones in its war on Ukraine, which shows no sign of ending nearly 20 months after the start of the full-scale invasion.
Vajdich said aid to Ukraine and Israel could be submitted either as a joint supplemental spending bill in the near term or at the end of the year as part of the annual appropriations bill.
Kupchan, who is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank based in New York, said that, whatever form a bill on Ukraine aid takes, he expects it to pass.
“I do think that the administration is going to bring a request to Congress and I’m relatively confident that will be approved, even if at lower funding levels than the Biden administration would like,” he said.
Mike Eckel contributed to this report from Prague
- Todd Prince is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington, D.C. He lived in Russia from 1999 to 2016, working as a reporter for Bloomberg News and an investment adviser for Merrill Lynch. He has traveled extensively around Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia.