Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to Congress Dec. 21, 2022. Republicans in Congress are divided over whether to continue U.S. aid to Ukraine in its war against the Russian invasion. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — As some in the Republican Party call for halting aid to Ukraine, other GOP members of Congress are doubling down on supporting the war-torn nation and even criticizing the Biden administration for not doing enough.
Several Republican members of the U.S. House traveled to Ukraine during a congressional recess in early April to reaffirm their commitment to the country’s fight against further Russian invasion.
Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio was among the four who visited Kyiv to promote “overwhelming” support for Ukraine. GOP Reps. Rich McCormick of Georgia, Darin LaHood of Illinois and Chris Stewart of Utah accompanied Turner.
Turner, chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, led the delegation in a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“There is overwhelming bipartisan support in America to continue assisting #Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” he tweeted, along with a photo of him shaking hands with Zelenskyy.
Turner’s comments set him apart from the freshman GOP senator from Ohio, J.D. Vance, who as a candidate and just before the invasion declared, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.”
Congress has appropriated more than $113 billion in emergency supplemental funding for Ukraine since the all-out war began in February 2022.
The U.S. is Ukraine’s lead financial supporter as the Eastern European nation pushes back against Russia’s shelling and expanded occupation of Ukrainian territory beyond the Crimean Peninsula, a southeastern land mass jutting out into the Black Sea that Russia invaded in 2014.
‘Ukraine is not the 51st state’
Turner’s declaration — and those of other GOP members who’ve traveled to Ukraine — are in stark contrast to the statements of other lawmakers who question Ukraine’s use of the funds or would like to see a complete stop to the flow of aid.
“I’m sorry, but Ukraine is not the 51st state of the United States,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia said in a “60 Minutes” interview on April 2.
In a special online segment published as “60 Minutes Overtime,” host Lesley Stahl asked Greene if cutting funding to Ukraine would threaten nearby NATO countries or if a GOP split on Ukraine funding plays into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favor.
“I don’t really care what Putin wants,” Greene replied. “I voted for the first resolution to denounce Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. What I have voted against is funding a war in Ukraine. The entire time I’ve been saying the United States needs to be pushing for peace in Ukraine, not funding a proxy war with Russia. We can’t afford another foreign war.”
Greene was an original co-sponsor of Rep. Matt Gaetz’s resolution to halt any additional military or financial assistance to Ukraine.
The Florida Republican in February gathered 10 other co-sponsors on his largely symbolic simple resolution titled “Ukraine Fatigue.” They included Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Mary Miller of Illinois, Barry Moore of Alabama, Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Matt Rosendale of Montana.
“America is in a state of managed decline, and it will exacerbate if we continue to hemorrhage taxpayer dollars toward a foreign war,” Gaetz said in a press release announcing his resolution.
Milley defends Ukraine spending
The Republicans are at odds with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, who told Congress on March 23 that continuing to fund Ukraine’s fight against Russia is in the “U.S. interest.”
“We are supporting Ukraine and its fight to protect its sovereignty and supporting our NATO allies with the United States forward presence in every single nation on NATO’s eastern flank,” Milley said at a hearing on next year’s defense appropriations. “This fight is not just in Ukraine’s interest, it is in the U.S. interest to protect the system that has prevented great power war for eight decades.”
Milley warned that the U.S. could face costly defense expenses in the future if present funds for Ukraine’s fight are slowed or halted.
While a portion of funding has gone toward humanitarian and economic assistance in Ukraine, more than half of the total has been allocated for defense, which includes reimbursement for the drawdown of the U.S.’s own defense stockpiles.
President Joe Biden has approved 35 drawdowns from U.S. weapons stockpiles for Ukraine since August 2021, including air defense systems, tactical vehicles, heavy artillery and ammunition.
The latest $500 million tranche was announced April 4 and includes munitions for the Patriot surface-to-air missile system, 400 grenade launchers and 200 rounds of ammunition, dozens of heavy fuel tankers, and multiple trucks and trailers to transport equipment, among other items.
Another $2.1 billion will be used to purchase new equipment from industrial suppliers, the Pentagon also announced. Those orders will include laser guided rocket systems, air surveillance radars, anti-aircraft ammunition, satellite communications terminals and services, a host of tactical and heavy vehicles, and multiple types of other munitions, including 3,600 small arms with 23 million rounds of ammunition.
Full accounting demanded
Some lawmakers have questioned whether the Pentagon is able to account for the weapons once on the ground in Ukraine.
“One of the first things I did as a U.S. senator is ask for a full accounting of where the resources that we’ve sent to Ukraine have gone,” Ohio’s Vance told Fox News host Tucker Carlson on March 29.
The Ohio Republican, who campaigned on easing U.S. involvement in Ukraine, led a letter in January signed by three dozen of his party colleagues asking the administration to go beyond reporting requirements that Congress wrote into the Ukraine funding packages.
“(B)efore a vote on any additional Ukraine-related appropriation occurs, we ask that the administration make public a full crosscutting report on U.S. government-wide expenditures for Ukraine and ‘countries impacted by the situation in Ukraine’ since February 24, 2022,” the letter stated.
Currently, there is no new funding request for Ukraine from the administration.
In late March — when the Senate approved a repeal of the decades-old authorization to use military force against Iraq — senators voted down, 26-68, an amendment offered by GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri to establish a special inspector general dedicated solely to Ukraine funding.
The amendment attracted votes from Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Jon Tester of Montana, as well as independent Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Congress wrote oversight requirements into the 2023 defense policy and spending bills and appropriated $42 million to three agencies and the Government Accountability Office for the action.
A joint 44-page report released March 27 from the offices of the inspector generals for the departments of Defense and State, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, found that 189 complaints about misuse of funds had been submitted but that no significant waste, fraud or abuse had been substantiated.
The offices collectively have 250 personnel working on oversight, with more than 40 stationed in Europe, according to the report.
However, a limited U.S. presence in Ukraine is an obstacle to monitoring the end-of-use status of defense supplies, according to the Defense OIG, which is reviewing the process.
Reports from the GOP lawmakers who recently visited Ukraine stated otherwise.
“I was able to ask questions AND witness firsthand the accountability of equipment and impact that our assistance is having,” McCormick tweeted April 4. “I will continue to fight to hold the Biden Administration accountable for doing the right things and for doing things right.”
2024 contenders on Ukraine
Ukraine is also emerging as an issue in the early days of the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.
GOP presidential hopeful Mike Pompeo, who served as CIA director and secretary of state in the Trump administration, also traveled to Kyiv this week.
“The least costly way to move forward is to provide the Ukrainians with what they need now, provide them with the tools and resources that they need today,” Pompeo told Fox News on April 4, a day after meeting with Zelenskyy.
Former President Donald Trump, who is seeking another term in the White House despite being the subject of several investigations and indicted on felony charges in New York, told Fox News recently that he believes Russia will “ultimately … take over all of Ukraine.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, currently seen as a top primary challenger to Trump, walked back recent comments he made stating that the situation in Ukraine is a “territorial dispute” and not in the interest of U.S. national security.
Biden, who has not yet declared he will run for the Democratic nomination, told Zelenskyy during a surprise February trip to Kyiv that the U.S. will continue to support Ukraine “as long as it takes”
Previous U.S. aid to Ukraine
The U.S. has been providing security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and its annexation of Crimea.
Aid under former President Barack Obama included nonlethal items — helmets, body armor, tents, rations and communication technology, among other supplies.
The U.S. began to supply what it categorizes as lethal assistance to Ukraine under the Trump administration. That aid — prior to Russia’s full-scale 2022 invasion — included sniper rifles, grenade launchers, drones, satellite and surveillance systems, as well as other items, including medical equipment.
Notably the first impeachment of Trump centered around his alleged refusal to provide security assistance that Congress appropriated for Ukraine unless Zelenskyy, then newly elected, investigated Biden ahead of the U.S. 2020 election.
Ukraine has also used foreign military financing, which must be repaid to the U.S., to acquire other U.S. defense equipment, including Javelin anti-armor missiles and refurbished U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats, since 2018.
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