Bad news for Ukraine in Israel-Hamas war, new GOP speaker Mike Johnson

Bad news for Ukraine in Israel-Hamas war, new GOP speaker Mike Johnson

A Ukrainian tank drives down a street in the heavily damaged town of Siversk which is situated near the front lines with Russia on January 21, 2023 in Siversk, Ukraine.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

  • Polls show US support for Ukraine military aid has been declining across political parties.
  • The focus on the Israel-Hamas war and the new GOP speaker of the House could cause more issues.
  • A government shutdown also looms as Biden asks Congress for billions in aid to Israel and Ukraine.

This month brought a series of bad news for Ukraine that had nothing to do with battlefield losses — and there could be more on the horizon.

Ukraine has relied heavily on Western aid since Russia invaded in February 2022, kicking off a war that’s lasted far longer than many anticipated. The Ukrainian counteroffensive launched in June also progressed slower than many had hoped, despite their supply of weapons from the West.

By early October, polls showed that support for arming Ukraine had declined amongst Americans of both political parties, a troubling sign for Kyiv. The future US aid prospects for Ukraine got even worse on October 7, when Hamas launched a wave of attacks against Israel, prompting a swift retaliation and counterstrikes in Gaza.

The Israel-Hamas war has since dominated American media coverage and the attention of many in Washington, DC. Nora Bensahel, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and an expert on US defense policy and military operations, told Insider that the Ukrainians and their allies are concerned that the focus on Gaza could pull resources away from their fight.

“That focus on Gaza will get even more intense when Israel starts a ground invasion, partially but not only because of the immense humanitarian crisis that will ensue,” Bensahel said Friday, right around the time Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza was beginning.

President Joe Biden has asked Congress to pass a $105 billion military aid package, primarily for Israel and Ukraine, but it’s unclear if it will pass, largely due to the other piece of bad news Kyiv has gotten recently: the new speaker of the House, Republican Rep. Mike Johnson.

“If I were the Ukrainians, I’d also be concerned about the new speaker of the house, since Johnson has been one of the far-right Republicans who has voted to limit assistance to Ukraine,” Bensahel said.

Johnson, who was elected speaker on October 25 after Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s ouster, has signaled he’s still open to additional funding for Kyiv, despite the hesitancy of some in his party.

However, in the past, he voted with a minority of House Republicans against additional aid. The Republicans for Ukraine advocacy group has given him an “F” grade on support for Ukraine.

While Biden’s request for funding appeared to have broad support in the Senate this week, its fate was uncertain in the House, where some Republicans are wary of additional support for Ukraine. Potentially to satisfy those members, Johnson released a bill on Monday that would peel off $14 billion in aid to Israel, separating it from Biden’s broader requested package.

The other potentially bad news for Kyiv is that Congress will be seeking to avoid a looming government shutdown on November 17. Lawmakers avoided a shutdown at the end of last month in part by dropping new aid for Ukraine from a spending deal.

With the war dragging on, there could also be more problems for Kyiv further in the future. Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations, told Insider Ukraine could face a greater challenge a year from now, in the 2024 presidential election.

“A Trump presidency will be bad news for Ukraine, and I think we need to take seriously the likelihood that this conflict will not be resolved by then,” Miles said.

In addition to cutting off aid, the US can also put limits on what US-made weapons European countries can provide to Ukraine from their own stocks.

“I think right now Putin’s plan is to wait for that election, and probably try to use Russian capabilities to influence it, in hopes that it will lead to starving the Ukrainian war effort,” Miles said. “I don’t think that will be the end of Ukraine’s capacity to resist, but it will undoubtedly change the character of the conflict.”

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