In the face of escalating tensions and the looming 2024 presidential election, President Joe Biden has made a critical move, urging top lawmakers to approve a substantial $60 billion aid package for Ukraine. This request comes at a time when the administration faces a stark realization: this could be the final opportunity to provide military funding to the war-torn country before the next US presidential election reshapes the political landscape.
Recently, the White House received direct communications from lawmakers highlighting the urgent nature of this funding. Adding to the complexity, the Pentagon has been caught in a standstill, unable to convene and decide on allocations from the Defense Department’s weapons stockpiles.
The reason? A stark depletion of funds to support these vital aid packages. In a significant meeting at the White House, President Biden convened with House and Senate lawmakers to discuss the stakes at hand for Ukraine. According to a White House official familiar with the meeting, Biden turned to Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser, and Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence, to highlight specific military capabilities that Ukraine risks losing in the upcoming months.
The officials pointed out critical needs like air defense systems and artillery ammunition, underlining the dire consequences of a lack of US support. However, the situation is further complicated by domestic political dynamics.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, representing a faction of House Republicans, has linked additional Ukraine funding to broader immigration deals. Johnson, in an interview with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, expressed concerns about a potential quagmire, drawing parallels to the prolonged war in Afghanistan.
He emphasized the need for a clear strategy and endgame from the President regarding Ukraine. Despite these challenges, Biden remains optimistic. Addressing reporters at the White House, he expressed his belief in the majority of Congress supporting Ukraine aid.
The President warned of the disastrous consequences if a minority were to impede this crucial support.
Political Dynamics and the Future of Aid
The internal dynamics of U.S. politics, particularly with the looming possibility of a Donald Trump reelection, cast a long shadow over the future of aid to Ukraine.
Inside the White House, NATO headquarters, and Kyiv, there's a keen awareness of the drastic change in policy that could ensue should Trump return to power. Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley, speaking on CNN Max, emphasized the reluctance of Republicans to support Ukraine, fearing it might alienate Trump and his base.
Trump's position on the conflict is clear: an end to the war on terms favorable to Putin, potentially altering the geopolitical landscape dramatically. Amidst these political undercurrents, US and Western intelligence officials project that the conflict in Ukraine could extend well beyond Biden's first term.
Predictions vary, but the consensus is a conflict lasting at least two more years, with some officials speculating it could drag on for as many as five. This prolonged timeline has galvanized lawmakers, including hawkish Republicans, to expedite the approval and disbursement of funds to Ukraine before the end of 2024, underpinning the urgency of the current situation.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Representative Michael McCaul were among those last fall advocating for sufficient funding to sustain the Ukrainian military through the 2024 election. The administration responded with a $60 billion request, but reaching a consensus in Congress proved elusive.
Now, as the election year heats up, fulfilling this critical need has become increasingly challenging. The reality of the situation is starkly summarized by a US military official in Europe: "We are out of money." The official highlighted the administration's efforts to stretch the funding, but acknowledged the dwindling resources.
A source familiar with Western intelligence put it bluntly, "Basically everything depends on Biden getting reelected, doesn’t it?"
The Battlefield and Beyond: Strategic Implications
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the uncertainty of continued Western support bring forth significant strategic implications.
Despite a relative stasis on the battlefield, following a failed Ukrainian counteroffensive, the need for sustained Western assistance remains vital. US and Western officials argue that this support is crucial not only for Ukraine's immediate military needs but also for the broader message it sends about the commitment of the West to its allies and partners.
In the short term, a reduction in US funding might not drastically alter the situation on the ground. Ukraine, benefitting from Russia’s current struggle to regroup, has some breathing room. However, looking ahead, a sustained lack of US aid could tip the scales in Moscow's favor.
Enhanced Russian military momentum, bolstered by support from allies like Iran and North Korea, is a looming threat that Western powers are keen to avoid. Another pressing concern is the ripple effect a US pullback could have on European allies.
Many European nations are already at their limits in terms of weapon and ammunition supplies. A US retreat could trigger a similar response from Europe, weakening the collective support for Ukraine. The immediate consequence of this could be a significant limitation on Ukraine's ability to conduct long-range strikes, particularly into Russian-occupied Crimea and the Black Sea, where Western weapons, including US-provided systems, have been instrumental.
Looking towards 2025, both Ukraine and Russia are expected to focus on bolstering their military capabilities in anticipation of continued conflict. US and Western officials do not foresee significant territorial gains by either side in 2024, given the exhaustion of troops and equipment.
However, the strategic decisions made in the coming year will be pivotal for the trajectory of the conflict beyond 2025.