By JOSH RUDOLPH
Russian President Vladimir Putin caught a lucky break this week. Just when he was planning to use his spy agencies to weaken U.S. support for Ukraine, far-right U.S. lawmakers advanced that mission on their own by derailing the path to passing supplemental aid to Ukraine. Now Ukraine’s friends among House Republicans should launch a counteroffensive that would swiftly put an end to Putin’s delight by insisting that the next House Speaker allow a vote on $90 billion of Ukraine aid with strong oversight and accountability provisions. The Senate should prepare similar legislation.
Ukraine is in trouble. The process of avoiding a government shutdown played out the worst possible way for Kyiv: Ukraine aid was stripped from government funding legislation and relegated to a verbal side deal that Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) cannot make good on because he was ousted from the speakership. Upon becoming the leading candidate to replace McCarthy, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said he’s against Ukraine aid.
With Ukraine funding set to run out within a couple months, the absence of supplemental assistance could mean a devastating winter of Russian invaders going on offense: bombing energy infrastructure, torturing prisoners, murdering and raping civilians, and stealing their children—war crimes Russia has perpetrated systematically.
On Wednesday, a group of 100 conservative national security professionals published an open letter calling on House Republicans to support Ukraine: “Without a single U.S. service member in harm’s way, America’s material support to Ukraine is degrading the war machine of Russia. Efforts to stop our aid to Ukraine could lead to a Russian battlefield victory, with catastrophic effects for American security. Putin would eye the next stage of the Russian empire’s restoration, and China would have a green light to take Taiwan.”
With House Republicans entering an uphill process of selecting a Speaker, now is the time for the roughly half of House Republicans who support Ukraine aid to step up and lead a conservative counteroffensive against the populist bomb throwers who have had their fun at the expense of national security. The charge could be led by a stalwart ally of Ukraine, like House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), backed by foot soldiers among the more than 50 Republicans in the Problem Solvers Caucus and Ukraine Caucus.
They should make a simple statement: they will only support Speaker candidates who promise to allow a House vote on a Ukraine supplemental amounting to $90 billion.
That is more than the $24 billion three-month supplemental the Biden administration requested. There are four reasons to go big with $90 billion.
First, it would last through the 2024 election. Republicans are unlikely to continue voting for quarterly supplementals, especially during an election year when the top Republican presidential candidates are against it.
Second, $90 billion has messaging value. It is the amount required for the United States to catch up with Europe in how much it has aided Ukraine. Talking about this number will help bury the lie about Europe not paying as much.
Third, making any demand to aid Ukraine will mean losing some Republicans. Picking up enough House Democrats to overcome those lost votes for a Speaker will require a year-long supplemental.
Fourth, a year of certainty around arms supplies should help Ukraine plan for accelerated counteroffensive operations, compared to the drip feed that gives Russia time to build defensive fortifications.
Beyond a big number, a supplemental should be more qualitatively appealing to conservatives than past legislative aid to Ukraine that was crafted under Democratic control, making this anything but a “blank check.”
That should start with codifying the need for U.S. inspectors general to coordinate Ukraine oversight through an interagency working group. My research recommends that step, along with the creation of a Kyiv-based fusion cell to facilitate information sharing among inspectors general from around the world.
But Congress should also use a supplemental to impose conditions on Ukraine that it continues delivering anti-corruption reforms. The Biden administration has been increasingly pressuring Kyiv to advance reforms, including a dizzying array of 25 reforms over the next 18 months. Congress can step in and insist upon a few reforms that would show decisive results within the next couple of months.
Specifically, Congress should require Ukraine to meet the last two of seven reforms the European Union set out as preconditions to start EU accession talks: make Ukrainian banks scrutinize the finances of former government officials for the rest of their lives and complete the process of implementing a reformed selection process for the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. The EU is set to proceed with accession even though Ukraine is only 60 percent done with those last two reforms. Congress could help ensure these reforms get done and Ukraine also takes substantial actions on other reforms like cultivating its specialized anti-corruption agencies.
Ukraine and its international partners have been busy integrating continued anti-corruption reform into wartime efforts, because Russia and oligarchy present two fronts of the same war. Congress can continue to be one of those critical allies by going big on Ukraine aid with strong oversight and anti-corruption provisions. Insisting that any House Speaker allow for a vote on a $90 billion supplemental is how to win the Battle of Washington.
Josh Rudolph is the fellow for malign finance of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan transatlantic organization with the stated aim of countering efforts to undermine democratic institutions in the United States and Europe.