Ukraine’s war effort could sputter out, as US, EU delay funds

A top White House official warns that Washington is ‘out of money’ for Ukraine as winds also appear to be changing in Europe.

Members of Ukraine's National Guard Omega Special Purpose unit fire a mortar toward Russian troops in the front line town of Avdiivka, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine November 8, 2023. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Serhii Nuzhnenko via REUTERS
Members of Ukraine's National Guard Omega unit fire a mortar towards Russian troops in the front-line town of Avdiivka, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine on November 8, 2023 [Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Serhii Nuzhnenko via Reuters]

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, expressed three wishes last month: he sought $61.4bn in funding from Washington for Ukraine’s war effort next year, $20.5bn from the European Union, and an EU invitation to start membership talks.

Zelenskyy asked for his wishes to come true before Christmas, but it now seems possible he will not get any of them.

On Monday, the director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House wrote to Congress, saying 97 percent of approved funding for Ukraine had been spent.

“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 US military stocks,” Shalanda D Young wrote in her letter.

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

Cutting funding would “kneecap” Ukraine, putting its forces on the defensive and possibly on the retreat, Young wrote.

On the same day, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban wrote to European Council President Charles Michel, telling him it was not realistic to expect EU member states to approve Ukraine’s funding or an invitation to start membership talks at a two-day EU Summit that begins on December 14.

“I respectfully urge you not to invite the European Council to decide on these matters in December as the obvious lack of consensus would inevitably lead to failure,” Orban wrote.

Both the United States and EU funding packages would need to be approved this month to come into effect next year and keep Ukraine’s artillery firing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already put his own military budget in place.

On November 27 he signed a 70 percent increase in defence and security spending next year, to $157.5bn, representing some 39 percent of the entire Russian budget.

“Any discussion about the necessity of continuing military assistance to Ukraine must invariably be based on the sole (catastrophic) alternative – a ‘frozen conflict’,” wrote Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak on X on Tuesday.

“This ‘frozen’ state is not in some abstract realm of ‘political expediency,’ but against the backdrop of a large-scale massacre of civilians, a major war, an enormous number of unequivocal war crimes and crimes against humanity … and the persisting insane desire of the Russian Federation to obliterate Ukraine’s agency,” Podolyak wrote.

Funding for Ukraine was not the only national security measure the Republican-led House had left hanging in the balance.

The Washington Post’s editorial board, in an opinion piece, said the US defence budget, a slew of military promotions and a reauthorisation of vital powers to intercept signals intelligence also needed to be approved before Congress retired at the end of next week.

‘Essentially this is now a political football’

Congressional Republicans seek to advance a social and libertarian agenda in return for upholding national security and foreign policy.

They have sought prohibitions for women in the military from travelling to other states for abortions; they want President Joe Biden to curtail asylum procedures at the border with Mexico, and waive his powers to grant humanitarian parole; and they want to defund the Internal Revenue Service.

“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,” wrote House Speaker Mike Johnson on X.

“Essentially this is now a political football where horse-trading unfortunately is going to be part of the final compromise they are trying to reach,” Jens Bastian, currently a fellow with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told Al Jazeera.

But Republicans also have a valid point, Bastian said.

“The Republicans are effectively pushing the ball indirectly into the camp of the Europeans, telling them, ‘If you don’t put more money or weapons on the table, then we are reluctant to compensate for what you are not doing’.”

Winds of change in Europe?

Europe has spent $29.2bn on military aid to Ukraine this year, compared with the US’s $62.3bn.

As a confederation in which important spending and foreign policy decisions must be unanimous, Europe is subject to the differing opinions and perspectives of its member states.

Orban, perhaps Russia’s closest ally inside the bloc, recently told party members Ukraine was “light years away” from joining the EU, a view squarely at odds with Germany’s strong support for Ukrainian membership.

Ukraine says it has carried out seven key reforms to fight corruption and money laundering, limit the influence of oligarchs, secure the integrity of the judiciary and guarantee the rights of ethnic minorities. The European Commission agrees Ukraine is on track and should be invited to begin official negotiations this month.

Orban is also China’s leading ally in the EU, receiving a relatively large share of Chinese direct investment in to Eastern European countries.

He was the only EU member to attend the 10th anniversary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Beijing last September.

Other EU leaders agree with Orban.

Robert Fico, a former Slovak prime minister, won parliamentary elections in that country on September 30 on a pro-Russia platform. A week later he announced that weapons shipments to Ukraine would stop.

Elections in the Netherlands last month gave primacy to far-right politician Geert Wilders, who has also opposed further spending on Ukraine.

Source: Al Jazeera