Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will attend the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week, when he will pitch more military and economic aid to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy is also expected to go from New York to Washington, D.C., to meet with Joe Biden and lawmakers. While a majority in Congress still supports supplying Ukraine with military aid, that support is shrinking as many Republicans are beginning to openly question the U.S. commitment to the embattled country.
The question might not be whether Ukraine should get any aid at all, but rather how much Ukraine should receive. There is growing unease among Republicans that the tens of billions of dollars in military aid sent to the second-most corrupt nation in Europe behind Russia might not all be ending up where it should.
But Biden continues to equate questions about the aid to Ukraine as tantamount to supporting Russia.
The Biden administration has asked Congress for $24 billion in supplemental funding for Ukraine. While Kyiv enjoys bipartisan support in Congress, some conservative House lawmakers have raised concerns about continuing to send aid to Ukraine, as has former President Donald Trump, the presumptive front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination. That proposed assistance is caught up in a broader fight among House Republicans over funding the government. So far, the U.S. has provided $43.2 billion in security assistance and $2.9 billion in humanitarian assistance.
Next week’s trip will mark Zelensky’s second visit to Washington since the start of the war. He spoke to Congress and met with Biden at the White House in December. Biden made a surprise trip to Ukraine in February and has had frequent conversations with Zelensky.
Republicans are also concerned about crossing a Russian “red line” that might draw the United States into a shooting war. In an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Zelenskyy begged for more sophisticated long-range weapons and renewed his call for top-of-the-line fighter jets.
“What we need, long-distance weapon systems, long-distance artillery, rounds, systems, et cetera. Everybody speaks about ATACMS. It’s very important. Everybody speaks about the jets, for example, in the sky. It’s very important,” he said. “I will speak with President Biden again. It’s not the first dialogue. So, we are moving.”
The Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) is an accurate, long-range missile system with a range of 200 miles and is mobile and easy to fire. But the Pentagon has been concerned about depleting U.S. stocks of the missiles. The word is that Ukraine will only get a limited number of ATACMS.
Zelenskyy wants them to help Ukraine take back Crimea.
“The aim of this increase in the stakes is to give a boost to the war,” said César Pintado, a lecturer at the International Campus for Security and Defense in Spain.
“It would directly target not small territorial gains in the adjacent areas, but go straight for Crimea. 2024 is a very sensitive year politically. There are elections in the United States and elections to the European Parliament. Other governments may come in and change the players. And the game may not be the same,” he said.
Russia has warned the U.S. repeatedly about supplying weapons to Ukraine that could strike Russian territory. Biden and his advisors in the Pentagon have insisted that Ukraine is not using U.S.-made weapons in offensive actions against Russia. They wouldn’t be able to make that argument if the Biden administration gave Ukraine the ATACMS.
Ukraine wants to “erode Russian morale and increase pressure on its commanders,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies said in an assessment this week. The strategy is “to bring Russian forces to a tipping point where combat power and morale may begin to break.”
That seems overly optimistic at this point. And we can only hope that giving Ukraine ATACMS won’t trigger a more direct response from Moscow.