The wrangling over a possible federal government shutdown has also become a partisan squabble over aid to Ukraine. The stopgap spending deal reached by Senate Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday includes $6 billion for Ukraine — less than one-third of the amount requested by President Joe Biden, and covering programs only through November. But some anti-Ukraine Republicans such as Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky, still threaten obstruction. Meanwhile, nearly half of House Republicans just voted to cut $300 million for Ukraine from the defense budget.
This shameful push to sell out Ukraine reflects the extent to which today’s GOP has come to be dominated by authoritarian populism and anti-Biden, anti-establishment contrarianism.
Some claim that the issue is spending American taxpayers’ money on a war that doesn’t affect the interests of the United States. Let’s leave aside for a moment the idea that war in Europe doesn’t affect American security. Fact: While calculations of U.S. aid to Ukraine differ, it amounts to less than 1% of federal spending (counting economic and humanitarian aid, not just military).
Given that Ukraine is the target of a criminal war by the dictatorship next door, and is fighting for survival and freedom, “we can’t spare a tiny fraction of our budget” is not a particularly defensible attitude. So the anti-Ukraine club keeps inventing other excuses. On Fox News, Sen. Paul argued that Vladimir Putin may be bad but the Ukrainians aren’t the good guys: "They’ve canceled the elections … They banned the political parties, they’ve invaded churches, they’ve arrested priests … It isn’t a democracy, it’s a corrupt regime.”
In fact, the presidential elections, which would normally be held in March 2024, have not been formally canceled. While Ukrainian law prohibits elections while martial law is in effect, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he may lift martial law in November. But elections are likely to prove a logistical nightmare when millions of potential voters live under Russian occupation or in danger zones near the front lines — or abroad, as refugees.
The other charges are just as spurious. Yes, in March 2022, about a month after the Russian invasion, Zelensky banned 11 political parties with ties to Russia. That’s out of a total of 349 parties that existed in Ukraine in 2020. Today, the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has five opposition parties — two of them formed by deputies from the only large party affected by the ban — which control more than a quarter of the seats.
Arrests of priests reflect the problem of infiltration by Russia and Russian intelligence in the Moscow-affiliated branch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. A spy who happens to be a priest is still a spy.
Ukraine is not a perfect democracy. It has serious corruption problems, like nearly all ex-communist countries, but has been actively working to clean it up. The real reason many Republicans turn against Ukraine is that they see it as the Democrats’ project — and many also dislike the international liberal order of which the struggle for Ukraine is a part. They’re even inclined to endorse Russia's view of modern liberal democracy as a hotbed of sexual decadence.
It will be tragic if these toxic politics undermine Ukraine’s fight at a time when it seems on the verge of achieving significant success, with breakthroughs on the ground and devastating airstrikes at Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Let’s hope bipartisan support for Ukraine remains strong enough to thwart the anti-Ukraine corner.
Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a writer for The Bulwark, are her own.