Trump’s Yearslong Crusade Against Ukraine Comes Home to Roost

  • US aid to Ukraine could be in jeopardy if Republicans win the House of Representatives at the midterms.
  • Several GOP MPs and candidates have signaled they would support reducing or halting aid to Ukraine.
  • “Unfortunately, Ukraine has sometimes been lured into domestic politics. It happens every now and then,” a Zelenskyi adviser told Insider.

In a phone call with the President of Ukraine this month, US President Joe Biden pledged further solidarity with Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s military invasion and illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory.

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But that support could be jeopardized if the GOP gains control of the House of Representatives in this year’s midterm elections.

The warning signs have been building up for months.

In April, ten House Republicans voted against a bill that would allow the Biden administration to more easily lend military equipment to Ukraine. The following month, 57 House Republicans voted “no” to a nearly $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. Both measures ultimately passed the Chamber.

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“I think people are going to be in a recession and not give Ukraine a blank check,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who should become speaker of the House if the GOP takes back the chamber, recently told Punchbowl News. “They just won’t do it.”

Ukraine has repeatedly defied expectations since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion and dealt a massive blow to the Russian military’s reputation.

With the help of Western help and at enormous personal cost, Ukrainian forces prevented Russia from capturing Kyiv in the early days of the war and recently launched a counter-offensive that met with great success Progress likely dependent on continued US aid.

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But a far-right faction of the GOP has increasingly opposed further aid to Ukraine, saying the billions the US has given Kyiv are too costly and not worth the risk of sparking a major conflict with Russia. This shift began with former President Donald Trump and continued as conservative pundits sided with Russia or called for Ukraine to leave to fight on its own.

President Donald Trump (right) meets with President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky (left)

In this September 25, 2019 file photo, President Donald Trump meets with President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

AP Photo/Evan Vucci, file



A remarkable shift

The GOP’s gradual shift away from Ukraine and towards Russia took years to prepare and reached critical mass during Donald Trump’s presidency.

In addition to the conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election, Trump was also charged in 2019 for withholding hundreds of millions of vital aid from Ukraine as it waged a war against Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Donbas led region.

While Trump and his allies withheld aid, they pressured Zelenskyy, a political novice who won the 2019 election by a landslide, to launch an investigation into the Bidens ahead of the 2020 US election.

Foreign policy experts said Trump’s actions – providing security aid in exchange for political favors – are a threat to US national security and bipartisan support for Ukraine. But the vast majority of Republicans in Congress sided with Trump’s defense, and eventually only one Republican in the Senate, Mitt Romney, voted to convict the former president for his actions.

In the years since, Trump has continued to take a controversial stance on Ukraine, hailing Putin’s justifications for the invasion as “brilliant” and “savvy.” The former president has often praised the Russian leader and made every effort not to criticize Putin at a historically contentious stage in US-Russia relations.

Hostility towards Ukraine does not only come from the top of the GOP. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, many prominent right-wing politicians and media figures have moved in lockstep with the Kremlin, creating a feedback loop in which each side amplifies and recycles the other’s propaganda.

On Fox News, for example, far-right anchor Tucker Carlson has repeatedly reiterated a nonsensical conspiracy theory that originated in Moscow before gaining a foothold in the US, and which suggested that Ukraine harbored US-funded bioweapons laboratories. Segments of him reflecting Kremlin talks later appeared on Russian state television.

“When we see that Fox News commentators are taking isolationist positions from our point of view – that looks like support for Russia,” Mykola Kniazhytskyi, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, recently told NPR.

Some GOP resistance to continuing aid to Ukraine is related to Trump’s “America First” policy on foreign policy. Trump took a non-interventionist stance and was often critical of US spending abroad, particularly when it came to NATO and European security.

Republicans in Congress such as Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene have echoed these sentiments in their criticism of US aid to Ukraine.

It’s a notable shift for the Republican Party, which for years has maintained a combative stance on foreign policy, particularly in relation to leading adversaries like Russia. But under Trump’s leadership, the party has become increasingly isolationist, and its growing opposition to aid to Ukraine is the latest and clearest sign of that.

Biden, meanwhile, has argued that supporting Ukraine is part of a broader struggle between democracy and autocracy. But a growing number of Republicans say sending aid to Kyiv should not be a priority in Washington amid concerns about inflation and a possible recession.

“When people see food prices rise 13%, energy, utility bills double…if you’re a border community and you’re overrun by migrants and fentanyl, Ukraine is the furthest you can get,” GOP MP Kelly Armstrong told Axios.

Democrats are more optimistic about keeping the Senate, but their odds have slumped in recent weeks, according to forecaster FiveThirtyEight, based on polls in four major competitions in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and North Carolina.

And in Ohio, GOP Senate candidate JD Vance made it clear he would vote against sending more aid to Ukraine, saying in September that “we have to stop the money spigot to Ukraine at some point.” We cannot fund a long-term military conflict, which I think is ultimately doing less and less for our own country.”

“The cards are dealt”

Ukraine

Ukrainian troops fire MLRS surface-to-surface missiles at Russian positions on a front line in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region on June 7, 2022.

Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images



There are some in Kyiv who believe US support for Ukraine will continue regardless of which party controls Congress.

“Ukraine, unfortunately, has sometimes been hijacked in domestic politics. It happens every now and then,” Tymofiy Mylovanov, an adviser to Zelenskyi, who was previously Ukraine’s economy minister, told Insider. “We’re trying our best to stay away from it. We want to stay away from that.”

“Despite all this rhetoric, support has always been bipartisan,” Mylovanov said, adding that the amount of aid Ukraine needs is a small fraction of US GDP. “In terms of what it means in the budget – it doesn’t mean anything. It’s not trillions of dollars,” he said.

The US has provided over $20 billion in security aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. The Biden administration has sent $18.2 billion in military aid to Ukraine, including about $17.6 billion since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in late February.

Other Western countries have provided important assistance to Ukraine, but the US has so far made the largest contribution of any individual country.

Weapons sent by the US, including Javelin anti-tank missiles and High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), have turned the tables on Russia, blunting its previous advantages in armored vehicles and artillery. If US aid to Kyiv suddenly dried up, it would likely limit Ukraine’s ability to dislodge sizable Russian columns from entrenched positions.

Trump, meanwhile, called for a negotiated solution to the war during a rally earlier this month. “We must demand immediate negotiations for a peaceful end to the war in Ukraine, or we will end up in World War III,” he said. he said back then.

But Russian leader Vladimir Putin has shown little interest in negotiations, as illustrated by the drastic steps he has taken in recent weeks. Beyond the illegal annexations, the Russian leader announced a partial military mobilization – the conscription of hundreds of thousands of men – and imposed martial law in regions that Moscow claims are now part of Russia but not fully controlled.

Russia has stepped up missile and drone attacks on civilian areas while destroying vital infrastructure across Ukraine.

But Mylovanov, the former economy minister who is also president of the Kyiv School of Economics, said that while Russia wants Ukraine’s surrender, the “Ukrainian people don’t want it.”

“People think that what happens in Kyiv will be decided either in Moscow or Washington or Brussels or maybe Beijing. It’s not, it will be decided in Ukraine,” Mylovanov said.

“The cards are dealt,” Mylovanov said, and it’s up to the US to sit at the table.



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