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Updated Dec 4, 2023, 10:03pm EST
politics

There’s no ‘plan B’ if Congress can’t pass more Ukraine aid

Serhii Mykhalchuk/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images
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The News

U.S. and European officials are warning that there won’t be any fallback option to fill the void if Congress fails to approve another batch of military aid for Ukraine.

On Monday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that the U.S. does not have a “plan B” to help Kyiv should funding lapse at the end of this year. “There’s not a magical pot of money out there that we can go dip into that we have been hiding off in the corner,” he said.

While Ukraine would still be able to rely on support from its European allies, the rest of NATO lacks the resources to fill the void if U.S. aid were to vanish.

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“European countries will continue in what they have been doing, but the U.S. support as such is almost impossible to replace,” one senior European official told Semafor. Another European official characterized the challenge as a “capacity gap,” noting other countries could not immediately match U.S. military industrial power to produce weapons — which is already straining to meet demand.

The U.S. is the largest single provider of military, economic, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, followed by Germany and the United Kingdom. Some Republicans have suggested that Europe needs to spend more to help Kyiv fight Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Germany last month signaled plans to double military aid for Ukraine next year, which former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor surmised was partly a reaction to “concern about the United States being able to continue to provide weapons.” But Taylor, who has been a vocal proponent for the U.S. passing more assistance, agreed that Europe couldn’t fill the immediate void created if American support falters.

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“Just as a matter of existing capabilities and existing stockpiles and existing military industrial capabilities, the Europeans will take years to come up to the level that the Americans are at right now,” he said.

Officials are already lobbying NATO and non-NATO countries behind the scenes to examine what weapons they have in stocks and to ramp up help, “ongoing and longstanding” work that would likely accelerate if U.S. aid were to lapse, a European diplomat said.

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Morgan’s view

Monday brought a discouraging sign for Ukraine supporters, as Senate Democrats walked away (at least temporarily) from border security talks with Republicans that have become the key to unlocking more U.S. Ukraine assistance.

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“I’m worried,” Mykola Murskyj, who works with the Ukrainian advocacy group Razom, told me. He noted that there had been other signs of trouble as well, such as a new letter from White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young warning U.S. funding would run out at year’s end, and Speaker Mike Johnson signaling dissatisfaction with the answers he has gotten from the administration on the funding.

Still, other governments are banking on U.S. support to continue, albeit potentially scaled back from the White House’s $60 billion request. They’ve been getting encouraging signs from the White House, as well as politicians from both parties who support more aid to Ukraine. “At the end of the day, I think something in some form will pass,” the European diplomat told me.

Having European countries send more aid to Ukraine is easier said than done. Europe’s defense industry is still struggling after prolonged underinvestment, and pledges from officials to reverse that decline haven’t yet produced major results.

Some European countries have also already maxed out how much aid they can deliver, given their resources. Lithuania, for instance, is providing the most assistance to Ukraine when measured by share of gross domestic product, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

Lithuania, a much smaller country than the U.S., “is doing everything it possibly can because they get the stakes,” Murskyj told me.

Sullivan argued Monday that cutting off U.S. aid could perhaps make it harder for the U.S. to convince other nations to step up.

“It undermines the case that we can make to the broad-based international coalition that we have pulled together,” he said.

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Room for Disagreement

“Our European allies have still spent far below, particularly on military aid to Ukraine,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. said during an appearance on Fox News earlier this year. “We’ve got to say to them that they must take the lead in defending Ukraine and in defending the European continent. We have to shift our focus militarily to the Pacific.”

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The View From Germany

Germany, often the target of critics who say European countries should step up spending, pivoted after Putin’s invasion and said it would finally meet NATO’s target for spending 2% GDP on defense. But while a slim majority of Germans support rearmament, according to a recent survey from Morning Consult, that doesn’t necessarily mean they support doing so in order to back Ukraine. According to the poll, a majority of the Germans who believe now is the right time to rearm believe Berlin is either doing enough or too much for Ukraine.

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Notable

Ukraine is seeking to increase its domestic arms production so it is less dependent on other countries, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky explained to the Associated Press in a recent interview.

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