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There is mounting anxiety about what Tuesday’s American midterm elections may mean for Ukraine and U.S. support for the country, amid fears that a Republican surge could weaken American backing for Kyiv.
Ukrainian officials and lawmakers are scrutinizing the opinion polls and parsing the comments of their counterparts.
“We hope that for our sake that we don’t become a victim to the partisan debate that’s unfolding right now in the U.S.,” Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, a former Ukrainian deputy prime minister and now opposition lawmaker, told POLITICO. “That’s the fear, because we are very much seriously dependent on not only American support, but also on the U.S. leadership in terms of keeping up the common effort of other nations.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the potential next speaker if the Republicans prevail, said last month that there would be no “blank check” for Ukraine if the House comes back under Republican control. The Biden administration has tried to assuage concerns about the government’s commitment to supporting Ukraine in its fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion, but populist Republican sentiment in Congress is urging less support for Kyiv and more attention on U.S. domestic problems.
“I’m worried about the Trump wing of the GOP,” said Mia Willard, a Ukrainian-American living and working in Kyiv. “I have recently read about Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s promise that ‘not another penny will go to Ukraine’ if Republicans retake control of Congress.”
According to the latest poll data, the Republicans are favored to take over the House and possibly the Senate in Tuesday’s voting.
“I do hope that regardless of the election results,” said Willard, “there will be a continued bipartisan consensus on supporting Ukraine amid Russia’s genocide of the Ukrainian people, which I cannot call anything but a genocide after firsthand witnessing Russia’s war crimes in the now de-occupied territories,” said Willard, who is a researcher at the International Centre for Policy Studies in the Ukrainian capital.
Former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin is confident that U.S. military and financial support for his country will continue after the midterms. “I don’t see a critical number of people among the Republicans calling for cuts in aid,” he told POLITICO. At the same time, Klimkin acknowledged that the procedure for congressional consideration of Ukraine aid may become more complex.
Klimkin said he believes that the U.S. stance toward Ukraine is “critical” for Washington beyond the Ukrainian conflict — “not only with respect to Russia, but also to how the U.S. will be perceived by China.”
For Ukraine, Klimkin said the “real risk” is the debate taking place in Washington on both sides of the aisle about the fact that “the United States is giving much more than all of Europe” to Kyiv’s war effort.
According to the Kiel Institute of the World Economy, the U.S. has brought its total commitments in military, financial and humanitarian aid to over €52 billion, while EU countries and institutions have collectively reached just over €29 billion.
“The U.S. is now committing nearly twice as much as all EU countries and institutions combined. This is a meager showing for the bigger European countries, especially since many of their pledges are arriving in Ukraine with long delays,” said Christoph Trebesch, head of the team compiling the Kiel Institute’s Ukraine support tracker.
If the Republicans prevail in Tuesday’s vote, the anxiety is also that without U.S. leadership, Ukraine would slip down the policy agenda of Europe, too, depriving Ukraine of the backing the country needs for “victory over the Russian monster,” Klympush-Tsintsadze said.
If the worst happened and U.S. support weakens following the midterms, Klympush-Tsintsadze said she has some hopes that Europe would still stand firm. She has detected in Europe “much more sobriety in the assessment of what Russia is and what it can do, and I hope there would be enough voices there in Europe, too, to ensure there’s no weakening of support,” she said.
Others are less sanguine about how stout and reliable the Europeans would be without Washington goading and galvanizing. Several officials and lawmakers pointed to the Balkan wars of the 1990s and how the Clinton administration stood back, arguing the Europeans should take the lead only to have to intervene diplomatically and militarily later.
“We in Ukraine have been watching closely the developments in the USA and what configuration the Congress will have after the midterm elections,” said Iuliia Osmolovska, chair of the Transatlantic Dialogue Center and a senior fellow at GLOBSEC, a global think-tank headquartered in Bratislava.
“This might impact the existing determination of the U.S. political establishment to continue supporting Ukraine, foremost militarily. Especially given voices from some Republicans that call for freezing the support to Ukraine,” she said.
But Osmolovska remains hopeful, noting that “Ukraine has been enjoying bipartisan support in the war with Russia since the very first days of the invasion in February this year.” She also believes President Joe Biden would have wiggle room to act more independently when it comes to military assistance to Ukraine without seeking approval from Congress thanks to legislation already on the books.
But she doesn’t exclude “the risk of some exhaustion” from allies, arguing that Ukraine needs to redouble diplomacy efforts to prevent that from happening. What needs to be stressed, she said, is that “our Western partners only benefit from enabling Ukraine to defeat Russia as soon as possible” — as a protracted conflict is in no one’s interest.
“There’s a feeling in the air that we’re winning in the war, although it is far from over,” said Glib Dovgych, a software engineer in Kyiv.
“If the flow of money and equipment goes down, it won’t mean our defeat, but it will mean a much longer war with much higher human losses. And since many other allies are looking at the U.S. in their decisions to provide support to us, if the U.S. decreases the scale of their help, other countries like Germany, France and Italy would probably follow suit,” Dovgych said.
Yaroslav Azhnyuk, president and co-founder of Petcube, a technology company that develops smart devices for pets, says “it’s obvious that opinions on how to end Russia’s war on Ukraine are being used for internal political competition within the U.S.”
He worries about the influence on American political opinion also of U.S.-based entrepreneurs and investors, mentioning David Sacks, Elon Musk and Chamath Palihapitiya, among others. “They have publicly shared concerning views, saying that Ukraine should cede Crimea to Russia, or that the U.S. should stop supporting Ukraine to avoid a global nuclear war.”
Azhnyuk added: “I get it, nukes are scary. But what happens in the next 5-10 years after Ukraine cedes any piece of its territory or the conflict is frozen. Such a scenario would signal to the whole world that nuclear terrorism works.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said that regardless of the results of the U.S. midterms, Kyiv is “confident” that bipartisan support for Ukraine will remain in both chambers of the Congress. Both the Republicans and Democrats have voiced their solidarity with Ukraine, and this stance would remain “a reflection of the will of the American people,” he said.
The Ukrainian side counts on America’s leadership in important issues of defense assistance, in particular in expanding the capacity of the Ukrainian air defense system, financial support, strengthening sanctions against Moscow, and recognizing Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, Podolyak told POLITICO.
And this isn’t just about Ukraine, said Klympush-Tsintsadze, the former deputy premier.
“Too many things in the world depend on this war,” she said. “It’s not only about restoring our territorial integrity. It’s not only about our freedom and our chance for the future, our survival as a nation and our survival as a country — it will have drastic consequences for the geopolitics of the world,” Klympush-Tsintsadze said.