March 4, 2024

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Ukraine faces a tough winter after Zelensky was unable to convince Republicans to act quickly on new aid

Ukraine faces a tough winter after Zelensky was unable to convince Republicans to act quickly on new aid


Washington
CNN

He stands alongside his Ukrainian counterpart in the White House A little over a year ago, President Joe Biden pledged US support for Ukraine “as long as it takes.” that it A commitment he has long reiterated In the 22 months since the unprovoked Russian invasion.

On Tuesday, too President Volodymyr Zelensky was making another visit to Washington under dramatically changed circumstances, Biden pledged that the United States would do so Providing vital weapons and equipment “as long as we can.”

The quiet shift in language seemed to acknowledge a reality that became clearer after Zelensky’s last-minute plea for more aid: American support for Ukraine is neither a guarantee nor an open-ended commitment. What might come next for Ukraine – a harsh winter of Russian attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure, exacerbated by fading prospects for help from Capitol Hill – is extremely difficult.

Biden administration officials say both the United States and Ukraine recognize that Ukraine must change its strategy next year if it wants to push back the Russians and secure a more favorable negotiating position once it is time for peace talks.

Ukrainian officials, including Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustam Omerov, in recent weeks have asked their American counterparts for more face-to-face time with senior U.S. military officials, realizing that “something has to change” in the way Ukraine is waging the war against Russia, he said. Two US defense officials. He said.

In response, the United States decided to allow Gen. Antonio Aguto — who currently leads the Joint Forces Command based in Wiesbaden, Germany, called Security Assistance Group-Ukraine — to enter Ukraine for longer periods to advise Ukrainian forces, the officials said.

Colonel Martin O’Donnell, spokesman for the US Army in Europe and Africa, declined to comment on Aguto’s travels. He added: “US military officials communicate regularly with the US Embassy in Kiev and senior Ukrainian military commanders to consult on a range of issues.” “However, for operational security reasons, we will not discuss details regarding any official travel.”

Previously, Biden administration officials had been reluctant to allow senior military officials to remain in Ukraine for long periods to advise Ukrainian military officials on their campaign against Russia, fearing that Russia would view them as pulling the strings of Ukrainian operations, the officials explained. But the US now believes Aguto’s presence there will be key to facilitating better intelligence sharing and war games between the US and Ukraine.

This partnership could help ease some of the differences that have arisen between the United States and Ukraine over how best to continue the war against Russia. The United States wanted Ukraine to focus more on the south, believing it to be more strategically important than the east. But Zelensky and his advisors did not agree to this.

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Some U.S. officials were frustrated that Ukraine continued to delay its counterattack, allowing Russia to significantly fortify its defensive lines. Intense level of One official said the United States was not anticipating the fortifications when it began training the Ukrainians in combined arms and mechanized warfare.

The United States has discussed with Ukraine the possibility that, in the future, the Ukrainians could shift their focus to holding territory they already control and building up to the point where Russia is unable to seize it by force – a so-called “hold and build” strategy. The official said.

But this is not a long-term solution, because the Russians will continue to attack Ukrainian positions, and will have the ability to replenish and rearm their ranks in a way that Ukraine cannot.

Tuesday’s visit to the US capital was a far cry from what the Ukrainian leader experienced when he made his first wartime trip outside Ukraine in December 2022.

Gone is the mostly bipartisan warmth Zelensky received when he visited the country a year ago. Instead of standing ovation, raising Ukrainian flags and getting assurances from Congress that more weapons would be provided, Zelensky on Tuesday found himself facing a wall of opposition from Republicans, who are demanding stricter immigration rules before new aid is approved.

The impasse over immigration appeared unlikely to be resolved by the end of the week, when Congress is scheduled to leave for its recess, although negotiators who met on Tuesday said progress had been made.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican and himself a staunch supporter of Ukraine, called it “practically impossible” to pass the package quickly.

Biden tried to encourage his Ukrainian guest during talks in the Oval Office, telling Zelensky that he did not want him to lose “hope.”

“Congress needs to pass additional funding for Ukraine before they break for the holiday, before they give Putin the greatest Christmas present they can give him,” Biden said as the fire burned behind him in the fireplace.

By then, however, it was already clear that the personal appeals that Zelensky had successfully leveraged over the course of the 22-month war no longer carried the weight they used to, and that his ability to move Republicans off their feet was limited.

“I don’t know if he moved the needle at all,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said after an all-senator meeting in the Capitol’s wood-paneled Mansfield Room.

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Even Zelensky seemed to acknowledge the reality during his joint press conference with Biden.

“They were more than positive, but we know we need to separate the words from the results,” he said of his meeting with Republicans.

The border dispute is out of Zelensky’s hands

This is partly due to this problem At the heart of the impasse – Tighter rules that would limit the number of migrants crossing the US southern border – are completely out of Zelensky’s control. During his conversations with lawmakers, he refused to take a position on the issue.

Sen. Markwayne Mullen, a Republican from Oklahoma, who has said he supports more aid to Ukraine if it is tied to a tougher border policy, said Zelensky did not wade into the immigration controversies that are getting in the way of a deal for more aid.

“We kept it at a high level,” Mullen said. “We’re working through the process. He understood that. He was very respectful.”

After Zelensky left the Capitol, immigration talks continued, with lead negotiators meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to further discuss their differences. The two sides remain at odds over a number of proposals, including steps that Democrats say are too extreme, and it remains uncertain whether congressional leaders will keep their members in Washington next week to continue negotiating.

The White House has signaled to lawmakers that it is open to expelling migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, in addition to a series of other Republican demands such as asylum restrictions, more deportations and expanded detention, as it tries to push aid to Ukraine, according to the White House. two. Sources familiar with the matter.

Taken together, these proposals would constitute a major shift in immigration law and amount to significant concessions by the White House on a sensitive political issue.

The expulsion authority is under discussion which was First reported by CBS News, It’s similar to Title 42 — a pandemic-era measure implemented under the Trump administration that largely barred migrants from seeking asylum at the southern U.S. border.

One source said one reason being discussed for using the power is based on the number of arrests at the border, which would trigger expulsions.

CNN contacted the White House for comment on the negotiations.

In his press conference with Zelensky, Biden sought to shame Republicans into approving new aid, arguing that doing otherwise was in the Russian president’s interest, and noting that a Russian state television show host praised Republicans for blocking new aid to Ukraine last week. .

“If you’re being celebrated by Russian propagandists, it may be time to rethink what you’re doing,” Biden said.

But beyond the migration dispute, there is the fact that Ukraine’s ability to push Russia out of its territory has come under new scrutiny after its long-awaited counteroffensive failed to achieve its goal of regaining control of the territory.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said after his meeting with Zelensky, “We need a clear formulation of the strategy to allow Ukraine to win, and so far their responses have been inadequate and have not provided us with the clarity and detail we have requested.” A sign that even resolution of the migration dispute will not necessarily lead to immediate agreement to aid Ukraine.

Some Republicans, especially those closely associated with former President Donald Trump, have begun to intensify their criticism of Zelensky’s approach and now say it is inevitable that Kiev will eventually have to cede territory to Russia.

“If you look at how mismatched the militaries are, there is no path to peace except through some negotiations. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, I’m not saying it’s a good thing that Russia invaded Ukraine, I’m not saying it’s a good thing that Ukraine is giving up territory But they have not made any significant progress despite hundreds of billions of dollars in American aid, said Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio after leaving early from an all-Senator meeting with Zelensky on Tuesday morning.

Vance said Zelensky “was honest about the fact that they have some strategic problems and some issues they need to solve.” “I appreciate that, and I don’t think it’s changed the nature of the conversation here in Washington.”

Zelensky called the prospect of giving up territory “crazy, to be honest” in his press conference with Biden.

Persistent differences in approach made Tuesday’s visit all the more important for Zelensky, who himself is experiencing the first real strains in national unity within his country since the war began.

Biden and his fellow Democrats sought to exploit his presence to warn of the consequences of a Russian victory.

“Without additional funding, we are rapidly approaching the end of our ability to help Ukraine respond to the urgent operational requirements it has,” Biden said during his press conference. “Putin is counting on the United States’ failure to provide assistance to Ukraine. We must, we must, we must prove him wrong.