December 11, 2023


Champagne corks are popping in the Kremlin as Ukraine’s fate becomes entangled in the machinations that plague democracies in America and Europe. In recent days, the jurisdictions battle over sending $50 billion more apiece in military aid to Ukraine for 2024. They both face obstructionists and shakedowns. American Republicans, who mostly support Ukraine, voted against giving Ukraine help last week in order to force President Joe Biden to halt the flood of illegal migrants and drugs across America’s southern border. In the EU, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban threatened to veto aid to Kyiv and block its entry into the European Union. This is because he’s a pal of Putin’s and because he wants to get the $22 billion in grants that Brussels has withheld from his country because of its corruption and anti-democratic practices. Now leaders rush to repair these divides because the stakes couldn’t be higher. “If we don’t get the aid, we will lose the war,” Zelenskyy warned US senators in September.


This week Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky treks to Washington to implore for more aid while concessions will be negotiated aimed at closing immigration loopholes at the Mexican border. Most observers are optimistic. In an interview with me last week, historian and East European expert Anne Applebaum underscored the importance of finding a solution. “If no funding, the consequences are there will be 10 million more refugees in Europe, concentration camps all over Ukraine as now exist in its occupied areas, a collapse of faith in the West, and reverberations in Taiwan and elsewhere. It will be an epic-changing catastrophe.”

The brinkmanship has already been damaging. Delays and dickering embolden Russia and undermine confidence in the alliance and America’s commitments. Fortunately, on the same day that Ukraine got the thumbs-down, the Pentagon and State Department announced another $175-million worth of military aid would go to Ukraine from another federal “wallet”. This package included badly-needed guided missiles for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), anti-armor systems, and high-speed anti-radiation missiles. The allocation came from what’s called the “presidential drawdown authority” which taps into existing stockpiles and ships weapons immediately to the war front. Apparently, there’s $6 billion more available.

Meanwhile in Europe, politics are more polite. France’s President Emmanuel Macron launched a charm offensive immediately on behalf of Ukraine by inviting Orban to the Elysee Palace for a working dinner to discuss aspects of European support for Ukraine, according to Le Monde. “The dinner will mark a rare welcome by a major Western European leader for the Hungarian strongman, who has retained closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin than any other EU leader, even after Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. But it comes as concern grows that Orban could torpedo the chance to take key decisions concerning [accession of] Ukraine at the EU summit on December 14-15.”

The problem in Europe is that its democratic system is more complicated and decentralized than America’s. The European Union allows any one of its 28 members to veto initiatives – a policy

of unanimity that, if applied in the US and its 50 states, would have resulted in a civil war and dissolution generations ago. Orban has been a perennial outlier, but will likely come around. In November, Brussels said it may release up to E10 billion of the E22 billion funds withheld from Hungary, claiming Budapest has enhanced judicial independence. It’s a good guess he will get the cash.

Thus far, the European Union and its countries have contributed more to Ukraine in all forms of aid than has the US since 2022. The US has provided the most in military aid, but, in recent months, Germany and the Nordic countries have filled the gap left by a divided US Congress and must continue to do so, especially given Washington’s gridlock and because Putin shows no signs of fatigue. The Kiel Institute said EU nations have recently committed E780 million in heavy weapons to Ukraine compared to E500 million by the US. “Given the uncertainty over further US aid, Ukraine can only hope for the EU to finally pass its long-announced E50 billion support package; further delay would clearly strengthen Russia’s hand.”

One Congressman recently explained the cost-benefit to America of supporting Ukraine: For zero American fatalities and just four per cent of America’s defense budget, the Russian military forces have been dramatically stopped and degraded. But the drumbeat of propaganda continues by the Kremlin. Last month, Russia announced its military budget would increase to 40 per cent of its overall budget. Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov urged US lawmakers to block aid because peace talks can only take place if the US stops sending weapons. Russia Today carried the headline that “Trump will leave NATO”. On the campaign trail, Trump claims he could end the war in Ukraine within 24 hours, likely by cutting off the flow of weapons to force Kyiv to the negotiating table. Reinforcing that, Putin mused recently “just imagine that the aid stops tomorrow. It [Ukraine] will live for a week, when they run out of ammunition.”

Poland’s government pressures Europe and just issued a warning that NATO has only three years to prepare for an attack by Russia against Poland, Estonia, Romania, and Lithuania. Warsaw continues to outspend the rest on its military forces, but Norway and Britain announced a large coalition in support of Ukraine and European leaders regularly stream into Kyiv to pledge billions in military assistance. Last month, Germany announced it will double its military support in 2024 to $8.5 billion.

Most importantly, Ukrainians remain resolute. “We will not stop defending our country — we will not give up a single piece of our land,” Oleksiy Danilov, the head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, said after the Republicans blocked more aid to Ukraine. “We will focus, draw conclusions, reload our weapons and continue to destroy the Russian monster.”