US aid debate pushed to 2024 as Ukraine continues to battle Russian drones

US Senate debate on new aid will run into the new year, despite Kyiv push for urgency.

People pass by a symbolic Christmas tree made from used artillery shells and parts of rockets in Kyiv
People pass a symbolic Christmas tree made from used artillery shells and parts of rockets in central Kyiv, Ukraine [Gleb Garanich/Reuters]

The United States Senate will not vote on an aid package for Ukraine this year, the chamber leaders have said.

Democratic and Republican negotiators continue to seek a compromise on the delayed funding deal to support Kyiv as it defends against Russia’s invasion, a joint statement released on Tuesday said. Ukraine has become increasingly desperate to secure funding from the West in recent weeks, with political delays to both US and European Union aid bolstering Russian confidence amid the bogged-down conflict.

Having already handed Ukraine about $100bn in aid since the February 2022 invasion, President Joe Biden has asked the lower house Congress to approve another $60bn. However, Republicans have blocked the move, using the issue to demand new immigration legislation.

Meanwhile, work is continuing in the upper house Senate to reach a compromise.

“As negotiators work through remaining issues, it is our hope that their efforts will allow the Senate to take swift action … early in the new year,” Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Mitch McConnell said in the statement.

“Challenging issues remain,” the statement continued, referring to US interests in Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific and along its southern border with Mexico. “The Senate will not let these national security challenges go unanswered.”

For the remainder of the year, negotiators would “continue to work in good faith toward finalising their agreement”, they added.

However, it is not clear that any deal reached in the Democratic-majority Senate would win support in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where a significant number of party hardliners oppose providing additional funding.

‘Dire need’

The war in Ukraine, now in its 22nd month, risks being overshadowed by Israel’s war on Gaza that has been raging since October 7, aided by US financial support.

The impasse over US aid to Kyiv is mirrored in the EU, where Hungary is blocking a 50 billion euro ($54bn) aid package.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged both Washington and Brussels to unlock the funds, warning that Moscow was counting on Western unity to “collapse” and of a “dire need” for weapons.

In a press conference on Tuesday he said he believed the US “will not betray” his besieged nation.

The Kremlin has celebrated the gridlock, and ramped up pressure on the front lines, where the war has largely become bogged down in trenches.

As winter approaches, Russia has continued to focus on destroying infrastructure and attacking cities.

Overnight on Tuesday, new air attacks targeted Kyiv and other regions. Air defence systems destroyed 18 out of 19 drones, Ukrainian military officials said on Wednesday.

“According to preliminary information, there were no casualties or destruction in the capital,” Serhiy Popko, head of Kyiv’s military administration, said on the Telegram messaging app.

Kyiv on Wednesday also reported that it plans to build more than one million drones in 2024, as it seeks to raise its own weapons production to reduce dependence on foreign shipments, which are struggling to meet earlier commitments. The strategy is also seen as a potential boost to the economy.

Under the scheme, Ukraine hopes to produce one million FPV (first-person-view) drones, widely in demand on the front line, and more than 11,000 medium and long-range attack drones next year, Ukraine’s minister for strategic industries said.

US President Joe Biden, right, and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukraine's president, arrive during a news conference in the Indian Treaty Room on the White House complex,
US President Joe Biden, right, and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy lobbied for more US aid for Ukraine [File: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

‘Strong impact’

The White House has warned that by the end of the year, US aid to Ukraine will be depleted, but has been unable to push the package past partisan political interests.

Zelenskyy faced a sceptical reception from Republicans when he visited Washington last week.

Speaking on Tuesday, the Ukrainian president also expressed concerns about how US policies towards Ukraine could change if Republican Donald Trump is elected US president in 2024.

“If the policy of the next president, whoever it is, is different towards Ukraine, more cold or more economical, I think these signals will have a very strong impact on the course of the war,” Zelenskyy said.

Since Russian tanks first rolled into Ukraine, the Kremlin has bet that Western military support would ebb. Russian President Vladimir Putin is believed to be eagerly watching for signs that later this year Trump could offer his campaign significantly eased conditions.

On Wednesday, he again slammed Western support for Kyiv, calling for a “severe” response to foreign agents who aim to destabilise Russia by aiding Ukraine.

“The Kyiv regime with direct support of foreign special services has taken the path of terrorist methods, practically state terrorism,” Putin said in a video address. “The attempts by foreign special agents to destabilise the political and social situation in Russia must be severely stopped.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies