New US aid possible for Kiev: Trump’s sleight of hand gives Ukraine hope

New US aid possible for Kyiv
Trump’s sleight of hand gives Ukraine hope

By Roland Peters, New York

Republicans in the US Congress have been negotiating further military support for Ukraine for months. Then they let the aid packages roll out at Donald Trump’s behest. But now a way is becoming visible by which those involved could save face.

Something is moving in the long-distance duel over the Ukraine war. For months, US President Joe Biden has been urging Congress to pass new military aid. Republicans in the House of Representatives have been blocking legislation for months at the behest of former President Donald Trump. Now Mike Johnson, spokesman for the conservatives in the Chamber of Congress, has announced that he will act “according to the will of the House of Representatives” and bring an aid package to the vote. Republicans are “working through all the different options.” However, according to US media, there will not be a vote on the urgently needed new aid for Ukraine before the end of the month. The Senate must also agree.

The domestic political wrangling of the most powerful ally is affecting the war situation in Eastern Europe. Kiev and Ukrainian soldiers have been waiting for a long time for breaking news from Washington that could give them new hope in their defensive war against Russia. Ammunition is in short supply and without US support, Ukraine cannot defend its territory despite all the efforts of its European allies.

The waiting is nerve-wracking. The mere fact that Johnson is now announcing movement is a huge step forward. Negotiations between interest groups in Congress have been going on since November. No new money for Kyiv. Two aid packages passed by the Senate with a large majority of both parties were already on Johnson’s table, but he never put them to a vote and therefore declared them dead.

For Biden, Ukraine is the first domino that can decide not only the conflict between the West and Russia, but also between democracies against authoritarian regimes. The Republicans know the urgency, many of them say that themselves. But why not campaign for November on the way? “Nobody wants Vladimir Putin to get his way,” Johnson said on Wednesday: “I am of the opinion that he would not stop in Ukraine and would march across Europe.”

Election campaign tactics and asylum backlog

In order to approve the first aid package, the Republicans had already negotiated new measures with the Democrats due to the situation in the South. Historically, many immigrants are caught there near the border with Mexico. Last year there were 2.5 million registered crossings outside of the official crossings. There have never been more. Republicans wanted stricter controls, stronger border barriers and more staff. The Democrats were more accommodating than ever before and, among other things, wanted to introduce a cap of 1.8 million transfers per year.

Mike Johnson, Speaker of the Republican House of Representatives, now sees a way forward

Mike Johnson, Speaker of the Republican House of Representatives, now sees a way forward

(Photo: IMAGO/ABACAPRESS)

At the last moment they let the horse-trading in the House of Representatives collapse. Johnson had bowed to Trump’s will, which made his influence over the Republicans clear. With a view to November, the designated presidential candidate and rival of Biden will use any crisis to present himself as a possible savior. Johnson did not put another Senate package, with $60 billion in new military aid, up for a vote.

Anyone who reaches US soil can apply for asylum. About 30 to 40 percent are approved annually. But processing currently takes about six years, during which people remain in the United States. More than a million applicants are waiting for a decision. Trump wanted to prevent anything actually changing at the southern border, which Biden could have presented as a success during the election campaign.

Now Johnson and other influential members of Congress have raised hopes that something could move on aid to Ukraine, regardless of the border issue. With a political sleight of hand: Trump mused at the weekend that military aid could be declared as interest-free loans with no repayment target. “Give them the money and if they can pay it back, they will pay it back,” he said. As soon as Trump’s absolution of new aid was made public, the Republicans in the House of Representatives also made a move.

The priority is the southern border

Does it even make a difference if the USA doesn’t insist on repayment at all? Probably not for Kiev, but for the Republicans and Trump. He hammers into his followers at every opportunity that the economy is doing badly and prices are high. It is difficult for the Republicans to simultaneously justify tens of billions of “gifted” dollars for a war on a distant continent with no end in sight.

A slim majority of Republican voters say the U.S. should simply stay out of international conflicts, and House members run for re-election every two years. Your party colleagues in the Senate have much more political leeway. Their mandate lasts six years. In addition, the Democrats are in the majority there and they can schedule the votes.

While Johnson has now shown the path that all interest groups can possibly live with, he and other Trump allies have made their priorities clear: They first want to secure funding for the southern border, which is part of the budget in the Department of Homeland Security – and therefore part of itself like chewing gum in the dispute over the budget in Congress. So Johnson said: First he’ll put the budget to a vote. Then he can take care of the emergency aid package for Kiev. The soldiers in the trenches need patience.

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