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Ukraine fears being left in cold as Congress battles over Israel

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With the world’s attention shifting to the Israel-Hamas war, Ukraine fears it is being left behind as it continues a costly struggle against Russian forces and anxiously waits on Congress to pass another aid package before the winter sets in. 

Ukraine was already concerned before the Gaza war broke out, after Congress failed to include funding for Kyiv in a temporary government spending bill because a faction of House Republicans fiercely resisted it. 

And the House this week voted to approve a $14 billion package for Israel without Ukraine aid, rejecting a request from President Biden to combine assistance for the two countries in one package, along funds for Taiwan and U.S. border security.

Kira Rudik, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, said she remains hopeful that Congress will ultimately pass new Ukraine funding, but was “worried” as U.S. elections inch closer and complicate the debate.

“I cannot begin to tell you how it feels being here in Ukraine, talking to people whose ability to fight depends on the decisions that are being made somewhere so far away,” she told The Hill. 

“It will have such a huge, gigantic influence on the real life of real people here that have no influence over” Congress, she said of another assistance package, “but whose life will be absolutely changed if the decision will be made late or will not be made at all.” 

Newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has floated a plan to tie Ukrainian assistance to border security and has expressed a willingness to support Kyiv despite past votes against Ukraine aid. 

But he insists that Israel aid move separately from Ukraine funding, which could complicate its passage given growing GOP skepticism about ongoing support for Kyiv. 

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), an ardent Ukraine supporter who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, backed Johnson’s plan to separate Ukraine aid from Israel assistance, saying a combined package could delay urgent funding for Israel. 

“I’m optimistic we’ll get it done,” Bacon told The Hill. “The more I hear [Johnson] talk, the more confident I am that we can have confidence in him.” 

“Doing it with border security gets more Republicans on board,” he added. “If you just did Ukraine by itself … we would lose about half of Republicans.” 

Johnson has said the Ukraine aid and border security package will move next, following the Israel legislation, which also includes deep cuts to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) budget. 

The Israel package is facing resistance in the Senate, where Democrats want to combine Israel and Ukraine funding and are opposed to cuts to the IRS in the House-passed legislation. 

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who for hours held up a vote on the short-term government spending plan in September because it did not include Ukraine aid, said he would not support any legislation that fails to combine Ukraine and Israel. 

“House Republicans are turning their backs on the people of Ukraine,” Bennet said in a statement. “This is a significant test of America’s resolve. This is a moment where the rest of the world is watching how America chooses to lead.” 

The Biden administration has also slammed the House Israel bill and Biden has vowed to veto the legislation, in part because it does not include Ukraine funding. 

“This is an urgent requirement — as Ukraine heads into a winter of unrelenting attacks on its civilian infrastructure, they need air defense to protect their cities,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement

With more political roadblocks ahead, existing money for Ukraine is running out fast — just as fears of a stalemate in its was with Russia are rising. 

Winter is coming soon, and troops will need a steady flow of supplies to keep up an ongoing counteroffensive in the south. Ukraine will also struggle to keep its people warm and safe as Russia is expected to continue targeting energy infrastructure. 

European allies can step in to assist, but the U.S. is the largest supporter of Ukraine and would leave an unfillable hole, said Catherine Sendak, director of the Transatlantic Defense and Security program at the Center for European Policy Analysis. 

“The ability for partners to meet that demand is going to be a really, really hard conversation and I really hope we don’t get to that point,” she said.  

Sendak said if Washington fails to step up to the plate, it will also signal to both allies and Russia the pro-Ukraine alliance is cracking. 

“The situation will get very hard because so many look to the U.S. to lead on action,” she added. “It is absolutely prudent upon the U.S. to lead on this effort, which means being out in front of supporting assistance.” 

To help make the case to the American people about why Ukraine matters, Biden delivered an Oval Office address last month and underscored that it was vital for the U.S. to protect its allies in order to keep the peace at home.

Support for Ukraine is still an area of bipartisan agreement, especially among national security experts. More than 300 former secretaries, ambassadors, senior diplomats and military leaders from Republican and Democratic administrations sent a letter last month to Congress urging lawmakers to pass Ukraine aid.

But a growing number of Americans, particularly in the Republican party, are cautious about continued support for Ukraine without a clear objective to end the war. 

Ukraine’s counteroffensive, too, has struggled five months into the operation. Forces have made some progress in the southeast but are largely stuck against a bulwark of Russian lines. 

Russia has launched its own offensives but is also stalled. And both sides are taking enormous losses. 

Ukraine’s military commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, added to the skepticism this week when he warned the war was reaching a “stalemate.” 

“There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough,” he told The Economist

The failure to make any significant progress also comes as the U.S. and other world powers are focusing attention on Israel, which is ramping up its war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas. 

That divided attention is worrying for Ukraine, which fears that western citizens are growing tired of the war with Russia — as Time Magazine highlighted in an article published this week.

“It’s logical,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Time. “Of course we lose out from the events in the Middle East. People are dying, and the world’s help is needed there to save lives, to save humanity.”

But Zelensky said he still believes with strong conviction that Ukraine can win.

Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, said “many Ukrainians treated the article from Time very emotionally.”

“The topic of Ukraine has definitely mostly disappeared from the informational agenda,” he posted on X. “Global media have mostly stopped mentioning us or discussing us. Ukrainian leadership and Ukrainian people see that.”

Rudik, the Ukrainian lawmaker, said the Israel-Hamas war makes it even more vital to keep Kyiv in the fight against Russia.

Echoing Biden’s argument for taking on both fights simultaneously, she described the common enemy as “countries that want to bet on instability and countries that unite to commit terrorist attacks and continue terrorizing democracies.” 

“What we see,” she said, “is the result of a bigger global problem.”

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