The Republicans are Going All In: What are the dangers of political maneuvers surrounding military assistance to Ukraine?

Ihor Petrenko

11 mins - 12 de Diciembre de 2023, 07:00

The liberal democratic world, with the United States as its leader, is currently facing several threats and challenges from authoritarian countries. Authoritarian regimes are becoming increasingly active, not hesitating to resort to open hostilities. The quintessence of an akin dynamic is Putin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Instead of increasing efforts to counter Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, the United States has become hostage to its internal political processes, and so have all its allies and partners.

However, it is not only Ukraine, which needs urgent military support, that is suffering from linking the US budget process to the election speculations by some Republicans. It is American citizens as well. Let's examine the dangers of Republicans raising the stakes in the budget process.

When Two Fight, The Third One Wins
The United States is undoubtedly the leader of the liberal democratic world, but it is no longer its ideal or benchmark. As in any democratic country, the American election process is turbulent. In some countries, it’s more so than in others. Nevertheless, this is a characteristic of all democratic regimes because power stems from elections. Elections are demonstrably calm and predictable only in authoritarian regimes. The peculiarity of the United States, as the first violin of the liberal democratic world in the geopolitical arena, is that pre-election turbulence also affects the allies and partners of the United States.

Ukraine is the most vulnerable to the spillover effects of the election battles happening in the US Congress. The fact that Republicans have tied an aid package for several countries – Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan – to funding for a program to strengthen the southern border has jeopardized the necessary amount of military assistance, in particular to Ukraine. 

One should understand that there is no debate in the United States about the need to support Ukraine. White House officials have numerously reiterated Washington’s support for Ukraine. The US policy over the years has also proven to aid Ukraine, including under Republican leadership. Current speculation in the US budget process is precisely about the necessary amount and most effective mechanisms of support for Ukraine, according to different parties. 

The Republicans' speculation is precisely to promote the funding of the so-called southern wall as one of the most prominent points of their election program, along with the necessary amount of military support to partner countries, which is in line with the vision and policy of the Democrats. Therefore, in this case, the Republicans made an all-in offer: adopting the Democrats’ version of military support along with the Republican program or nothing. In this case, "nothing" refers to potential electoral points for the Democrats. 

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As noted, Ukraine will still receive military support from the United States, as it is in the national interest of the United States. Russia, along with China, Iran, and the DPRK, are described in the US defense strategy as threats that Washings needs to counter. Allowing Russia to seize one of America’s partners by open military action would be seen as a defeat for American policy in the international arena. 

Nevertheless, Republican speculations surrounding the budget process as a method of electoral struggle are much more dangerous than it may seem. First and foremost, their actions affect the course of the war in Ukraine. Both the international community and the American establishment should realize that Putin will not abandon his plans to seize Ukraine and further advance to the West. The relative stabilization of the front line compared to the previous year is not a sign of a decrease in the intensity of hostilities. On the contrary, Russia is building up its military capabilities in Ukraine and is fighting along the entire front line, not in isolated areas. The fact that the aggressor is being held back and even somewhat pushed back is the result of the courage and motivation of the Ukrainian Defense Forces, as well as the well-established process of military support for Ukraine by its allies, especially the United States. 

Ukraine Wants to Fish, Not The Fish
The sensitivity of the Ukrainian Defense Forces' capabilities to the supply of military and humanitarian aid is one of the main problems that the Ukrainian leadership is trying to solve. One should understand that the asymmetric resource capabilities of Russia and Ukraine make the support from Ukraine's partners critical. Ukraine needs military aid and will need it for some time. It is the price that the entire liberal democratic world is paying for Putin's war. Kyiv has an understanding that the Kremlin is waging a war of attrition against Ukraine, and this plan includes, among other things, the exhaustion of Ukraine's allies and the deprivation of support.

That is why Kyiv is rebuilding its economy to meet military needs and account for the realities of war, even amid war. Thus, Ukraine has already established its production of the most necessary artillery shells at the front (both Soviet 152 mm and NATO 155 mm), tanks, and mortar shells. Ukraine constantly develops and produces UAVs and drones, including naval UAVs, and much more. However, Russia is amassing its capabilities as well. As a result, Ukraine's efforts remain insufficient to counter the aggressor.

Ukraine's leadership relies on cooperation with its allies on a partnership basis. The Ukrainian government understands that it should not rely on receiving irrevocable aid, let alone expect that it will always have it because the existence of Ukraine's statehood is at stake. Instead, joint production in the defense industry with partner countries, which is economically attractive to all, can ensure that Ukraine meets its defense needs and can provide growth for the national economy.

In September 2023, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy held the first International Defense Industries Forum in Kyiv. The event aimed to establish partnerships in the defense industry for all stakeholders. During the Forum, Zelenskyy said that 13 companies had already signed the declaration and were "ready to build a new arsenal of the free world together with Ukraine." In addition, before the Forum, Ukraine had several bilateral agreements on cooperation in the defense industry with Poland, the Czech Republic, France, Denmark, and others.

In the context of Ukrainian-American relations, the decision to jointly produce air defense systems, which the President of Ukraine called "historic," is a landmark. It is too early to say whether this decision will prove historic. However, it is a significant signal to the American establishment that Ukraine is seeking to change the very perception of our country. Kyiv understands that national interests are best served when they are combined with economic ones. 

At the moment, we can only discuss contacts between the United States and Ukraine in this matter, preparing the basis for further development of cooperation and signaling to other US partner countries that Ukraine is attractive as a partner in the defense industry. It is important to note that Ukraine does not want to be permanently dependent on the United States; we are interested in economic development, even amid a full-scale war. 

However, this is a medium-term question. As of now, Ukraine still needs the urgent support of its allies and partners to be able to respond to the recent increase in the intensity of hostilities. Therefore, politicization and speculations around the issue of military aid to Ukraine play in favor of Putin's terrorist regime.

Dangerous Games
Political speculations within the framework of the US budget process regarding the military aid package to partner countries are dangerous not only in the short term. While aiming to achieve situational electoral dividends, akin speculations threaten US national interests. No representative of the US Congress wants this. Authoritarian regimes, including but not limited to  Russia, will use the lack of unity among the American political establishment on approaches to supporting partners.

There is no doubt that the countries that the United States views as its opponents in the geopolitical arena are not only watching the current reaction and counteraction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In particular, China is seeking to transform its state into a dominant global power by 2049, including the return of Taiwan. China will seek to establish control over Taiwan at all costs. Thanks to Putin, the Chinese already have a "perfect case" of the Crimean annexation under the democratic guise of a "referendum" that, unfortunately, the world swallowed without a proper reaction. China is now testing the unity of the liberal democratic world in the event of open military aggression.

There is no reason to doubt that if a sovereign Ukraine falls, it will send a signal and untie the hands of not only China but also other authoritarian regimes. If, after Afghanistan, the United States allows Ukraine to fail, other actors will perceive it as a critical weakness that they can and should exploit. Currently, Iran is hesitating whether to openly help Hamas and return to economic confrontation with the West. The same applies to the South Pacific region, where open aggression by the nuclear-armed DPRK is a potential possibility. If the Kremlin succeeds in Ukraine, it will not stop. This would keep the question of a direct clash with NATO in the air, directly affecting the United States. President Biden has been pointing this out to his citizens. In his October article for The Washington Post, he explicitly stated that "our commitment to Ukraine today is an investment in our security."

Putin is already demonstrating to all other leaders of authoritarian states that he can achieve his goals exclusively through the language of weapons, blackmailing the world with nuclear weapons, living under sanctions, and provoking a food crisis in the world. Russia doesn’t intend to abandon its criminal policy, hoping that the free world's determination to resist aggression will diminish. 

Therefore, the Republicans’ politicization and speculation about the allocation of sufficient US military support to Ukraine puts much more at stake than one could win. It is not only the fate and future of Ukraine that are at stake but also the dominant position of liberal democratic countries, primarily the United States, in the geopolitical arena. In this case, the domino effect could result in protracted military conflicts globally, with actors not fearing effective counteraction from their opponents. The example of authoritarian regimes may become a trend in world politics if their policies seem more effective in the eyes of developing countries.

Instead, the more decisive the defeat of Russia in Ukraine is, the less the geopolitical opponents of the United States will be willing to resolve disputes with weapons. The democratic world should not forget that its strength lies in the unity of efforts and consensus. Any differences in the liberal-democratic world are desirable only for authoritarian regimes seeking revenge and revision of the existing world order.

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