Biden says he's worried about Ukraine aid. The Pentagon warns it's running low
Updated October 4, 2023 at 4:26 PM ET
President Biden said he is worried that disarray in Congress could undermine his promise to give Ukraine what it needs for its fight against Russia — concerns that come as the Pentagon warns that military aid in Ukraine is rapidly running out.
NPR has learned the Pentagon has warned U.S. lawmakers that they urgently need to approve more aid to prevent a disruption in the flow of weapons to Ukraine.
Biden had asked Congress for $24 billion for fresh military, humanitarian and economic aid for Ukraine through the end of the calendar year. But the House of Representatives left that out of the recent stopgap measure that keeps government funded through Nov. 17.
Now, the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has created even greater uncertainty about the fate of that request.
"It does worry me," Biden said. "But I know there are a majority of members of the House and Senate, in both parties, who have said that they support funding Ukraine."
At least one of the candidates to replace McCarthy — Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, — has publicly said that he opposes additional funding for Ukraine.
Biden plans a major address to make the case for Ukraine
Polls show a growing number of Americans — particularly Republicans — feel the United States is giving too much money to Ukraine. That has fueled opposition to the aid among House Republicans.
Biden said he plans to soon deliver a major address to try to persuade the American public that continued support for Ukraine is in the national interest.
"I'm going to make the argument that it's overwhelmingly in the interests of the United States of America that Ukraine succeed," Biden said. "I don't think we should let gamesmanship get in the way of blocking it."
Ukraine's supporters say ongoing funding is critical as Ukraine presses an offensive against Russian troops in the south and the east of the country. The operation has been moving more slowly, and at a higher cost in lives and equipment, than many predicted.
In addition, Ukraine is bracing for a repeat of the Russian onslaught last winter, when Ukraine's civilian power grid came under sustained Russian bombardment. Ukrainians say they need to bolster air defenses to prevent, or at least limit, the rolling blackouts they faced last winter.
Pentagon coffers are running low
The Pentagon is pressing House and Senate lawmakers to act swiftly so that the flow of weapons and other military assistance does not lapse, NPR has learned. In particular, the Pentagon is stressing the need to replenish air defense systems and provide additional artillery, including 155mm shells, which Ukraine is burning through at a rapid rate.
The Pentagon still has around $5 billion for military aid that has been authorized by Congress, but not yet spent.
John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, said Tuesday that the U.S. has been announcing military packages for Ukraine roughly every two weeks.
"I think you're going to continue to see that be the case for coming weeks," he said. "But absent additional funding by Congress, eventually, you run into a hard stop."
Kirby said there was about "six to eight more weeks of good fighting weather, and we want to make sure that the Ukrainians can succeed." When pressed on how long the U.S. could continue to fund Ukraine with available money, he added, "a couple of months or so is roughly about right."
The United States provides the most military aid to Ukraine
The U.S. has provided the most military assistance to Ukraine, and supporters say it has made a huge difference in its strong performance against a larger Russian military.
"We have spent about 5% of our annual defense budget, and with that money, the Ukrainians have destroyed over 60% of the Russian military," said Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo. "Now, if that's not a good bargain for the American taxpayer, I don't know what is."
Crow is a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Asked if he thought Americans were weary of another open-ended conflict with a big price tag, he replied:
"Well, I can tell you I'm war-weary," he said. "You know, the last 20 years (of wars) could not be classified as a success by most measures. And yet, I'm a huge supporter of Ukraine."
One frequent criticism of more U.S. spending on Ukraine is that European nations should be doing more.
But a number of recent studies have tabulated that Europe, collectively, has provided more overall assistance than the United States. Also, Poland and other European countries have taken in millions of Ukrainian refugees and continue hosting them.
This European support has proven much larger, and more durable, than almost anyone predicted.
Ukrainian leaders openly acknowledge that one of their greatest fears is that Western aid will stop flowing. Ukrainians often say that they're not asking the West to send troops to fight, but they are asking for weapons so Ukrainians can fight the Russians.
Ukrainians say they understand they can't rely on foreign military aid indefinitely and will have to become more self-sufficient. Toward that end, Ukraine hosted a conference of Western arms makers last weekend and urged them to set up production facilities in Ukraine.
But for now, the Ukrainians remain dependent on Western aid, and all the signs are pointing toward a protracted conflict.
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