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KYIV – Concern is growing in Ukraine as disagreements in Washington continue to block billions of dollars in urgently needed war funding – aid that officials here say is crucial to keeping the country running as the war with Russia continues.
The tension in relations between Kiev and Washington comes as internal political divisions have resurfaced for President Volodymyr Zelensky and fears over possible funding shortfalls are fueling further tensions in the capital. Relations between officials who had previously maintained a public appearance of unity are now openly fraying.
A delegation of senior Ukrainian officials visited Washington this week to argue for more funding for both the military and the state budget – demands that appeared to go unheard as Senate Republicans again blocked proposed aid tied to controversial border control measures .
Zelensky was scheduled to speak virtually at a House and Senate briefing this week but was canceled at the last minute as the meeting devolved into a chaotic shouting match over U.S. border policy. His cancellation was highly unusual for a leader who typically does not turn down opportunities to advocate for Ukraine, raising questions about whether he resigned on the advice of his Ukrainian colleagues or U.S. officials.
Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, said on a Ukrainian television program that “actually nothing catastrophic happened” and added: “It is precisely because not only Ukraine’s issues but also internal issues were discussed that we not involved.”
However, the difference between the passage of billions in aid for Ukraine by the end of this year and the passage in January is crucial for Ukraine, said Oleksandra Ustinova, parliamentarian and leader of the Holos party faction.
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About a third of Ukraine’s budget comes from U.S. financial aid, she said, and if that money doesn’t come through, Kiev may not be able to pay base salaries for doctors, first responders and others.
“It will be a huge problem in every sense of the word, because if we don’t survive as a state, we can’t win a war,” Ustinova said.
She also noted Ukraine’s dependence on US-made ammunition for air defense systems. Ukrainians are expecting a difficult winter, with Russia likely to again attack their energy infrastructure with missiles and drones to leave people without power.
On her recent trip to Washington, Ustinova sensed a growing weariness in supporting the war. She said she’s often asked, “What’s the plan?” and “How long will this take?”
“And I tell them that unfortunately the plan that we have cannot be met with the amount of weapons that we have,” she said. “It’s hard for us to plan anything when we don’t have enough ammunition.”
On Wednesday, the State Department announced $175 million in additional security assistance to Ukraine, including air defense munitions and munitions, but warned that without action from Congress, “it will be one of the last security assistance packages we can offer to Ukraine.” .
But some officials remained optimistic that allies in Washington would take action before the end of the year. Yulia Svyrydenko, the first deputy prime minister and economy minister who visited Washington last month, said she hoped the aid package would be announced by Christmas.
“We have heard time and time again from our partners that they will continue to support us and they have never broken their promise. “We have no reason to doubt the reliability of our partnership,” she said.
However, there is still the challenge of staying top of mind with allies. Tymofiy Mylovanov, head of the Kyiv School of Economics and a former government minister, said that global attention shifting to Israel’s military operations in Gaza and Ukraine’s “overstated” counteroffensive, which did not meet expectations, both contributed to the decline support from both the United States and the European Union.
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“Will this cause Ukraine to fall? No, unlikely,” Mylovanov said. “But will many more people die? Yes. Will this limit Ukraine’s ability to have capable troops? Yes. It’s all grueling. It’s obviously a long war – that’s now clear to everyone, including me.”
The attempt to shift blame for why the counteroffensive in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions was not more successful has also fueled political divisions, at a moment when Ukraine may want to appear united to its Western partners. he said.
“It’s tough, so everyone’s nervous,” Mylovanov said. “Rationally speaking, of course, this is wrong.”
Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko said in a recent interview with Germany’s Spiegel that Ukraine is turning toward authoritarianism, adding: “At some point we will no longer be different from Russia, where everything depends on the whim of one man.”
Then Petro Poroshenko, who was president of Ukraine before Zelensky and is now opposition leader in parliament, was prevented from leaving the country by authorities a week ago in what analysts describe as a political slap in the face by Zelensky’s government.
Poroshenko claimed that his trip abroad, which included a trip to the United States to meet with lawmakers and other officials, was intended to drum up support for Ukraine. The internal secret service SBU, which reports to the presidential office, said on Saturday that it had blocked Poroshenko’s departure to prevent his trip from being used by Russia for propaganda purposes.
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Ukrainian and U.S. officials have also noted tensions between Zelensky and his top commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny. Zaluzhny, 50, rarely makes public statements and although he has never revealed any political ambitions, his popularity in Ukraine is comparable to Zelensky’s.
Analysts said he would pose the biggest challenge to Zelensky if he decides to run for president in the future. Ukrainian law prevents elections from being held during martial law, and Zelensky has said he personally opposes holding elections while the country remains at war.
Tensions between the two rose after Zaluzhny claimed in an interview with The Economist that the war had reached a “stalemate” and that there would “most likely not be a deep and beautiful breakthrough” for Ukraine at the front, as there have been successful ones counter-offensives last year.
Zelensky publicly rejected Zaluzhny’s assessment of a “stalemate,” and the following weeks saw changes in the country’s military leadership, with special forces and medical forces commanders being replaced. Both personnel changes were made by the Ministry of Defense, bypassing Zaluzhny, although the commanders reported to him.
Mariana Bezuhla, a lawmaker from Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, repeatedly criticized Saluzhny on Facebook and questioned her supporters about whether he should be replaced. Klitschko and Poroshenko have expressed support for the general.
Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, in Washington this week, defended Zelensky on Fox News, saying Klitschko’s “comments indicate the beginning of the political season.”
He also said that resorting to negotiations with Russia would be a “disgrace to the civilized world” and would only encourage violent authoritarianism.
Many in Ukraine fear they could be forced to negotiate with Russia if Western partners, including the United States, feel the battlefield has stalled. Zelensky has long insisted that the only acceptable outcome to the war will be Ukraine’s return to its borders established in 1991.
President Biden is pushing for the Senate to reach a quick solution before the end of the year, scolding lawmakers this week for not yet approving aid to Ukraine. “History will judge harshly those who have turned away from the cause of freedom,” he said after the vote failed on Wednesday.
Andriy Yermak, a top adviser to Zelensky who was in Washington this week, said in a speech at the US Institute of Peace that US support for Ukraine’s fight remains crucial. Without them, he said, “it will be difficult for people to truly survive.”
Olena Tregub, a member of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Anti-Corruption Council, which oversees defense procurement, said that she was told by “people involved in defense procurement” that “the moment for the front line is now crucial.” She said the situation at the front was “perhaps worse than….” [Ukraine’s] Appreciate partners because the signals are definitely not good,” because she “heard a lot of little stories here and there when our military was lacking things.”
“Although the majority of Ukrainian society probably still believes that everything will be resolved and in the US it is just a negotiation game, an internal political game,” she said. “But I am very afraid that the situation will get out of control. And there is no Plan B. … If Congress doesn’t approve the funding, then I don’t know – that will be very, very negative for Ukraine.”
Kamila Hrabchuk contributed to this report.
Source : www.washingtonpost.com