White House rallies allies and leans on Congress to support Ukraine during the winter of War

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The White House is ready for the new challenges presented by a winter of conflict in Ukraine and an emerging Republican House majority promising to reduce funding to Kyiv.

Though Ukraine’s efforts to repel Russia’s brutal invasion continue to exceed expectations, President Joe Biden has been warily watching developments on both sides of the Atlantic. While fighting in Ukraine is now entering its tenth month and the country remains strong, new challenges for the Biden administration at home as well as abroad are increasing just as Eastern Europe temperatures fall.

White House aides have been privately acknowledging for months that the pace of congressional funding would slow as the war fades from headlines. The administration is determined to ensure Ukraine receives the support it needs to get through winter, despite Russian attacks against the electrical grid which have left much of the country in darkness and left millions without heat or light.

The administration is relying on Congress to immediately pass additional Ukraine funding through the omnibus spending bill currently being negociated.

The White House relies on unlikely allies: moderate Republicans in Congress who support the funding as well as the Senate Minority Leader. Mitch McConnellHe has stood firm behind the Kyiv assistance. In recent weeks, Administration and Pentagon leaders quietly met with GOP members to continue that momentum, despite the pressure from some of their far-right counterparts.

“We want to make sure that they’re able to defend themselves and take on what is purely the ugliest aggression that’s occurred since World War II on a massive scale, on the part of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, within Ukraine,” Biden said recently. “And there’s so much at stake.”

Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is trying to assemble enough support to become speaker, said in October that Ukraine would no longer receive a “blank check” from Washington. McCarthy, who may be dependent on newly empowered lawmakers like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who pledged that “under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine.”

Money won’t be the only thing the administration sends to Ukraine.

The Pentagon has increased preparations for Kyiv’s arming. finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile defense system, which should greatly enhance Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against attacks from the skies, including missiles and armed drones.

The Defense Department is also weighing sending other weapons, such as kits that would convert unguided aerial munitions into smart bombs, as well as explosives that would significantly extend Ukraine’s strike range. There are also, according to officials, discussions underway to expand training for Ukraine’s military at a U.S. base in Germany.

According to White House officials at the moment, Biden has no plans to visit Kyiv due to security concerns. However, Biden spoke to Volodymyr Zelenskyy last week and urged him to keep the flow of air defence weapons.

And there is growing concern in both nations’ capitals as to what the next phase of the war will hold.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive, so successful when launched in late summer, has stalled along both the southern and eastern fronts, allowing Russian forces to dig in. The cold winter has slowed the fighting — which has devolved into World War I-style trench warfare — but Ukrainian military officials this week warned that recent Russian troop and tank movements could telegraph another major assault in the weeks ahead, perhaps even toward Kyiv.

His war machine stalled and humbled, Putin has turned to long-range strikes and drones to destroy half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, causing regular blackouts and power cuts for millions. As temperatures fall dangerously, more Ukrainians might flee the country to seek shelter in neighbouring countries, further straining other European economies.

Biden received high marks in this war for his efforts to revive NATO and maintain a transatlantic alliance against Putin. Senior White House aides were impressed by the European unity up to this point. But they know that Biden’s job will grow more challenging during these next few difficult months.

The Western alliance has been struggling to support Kyiv despite its continued support.

Biden has led Western leaders in pledging to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes,” but another wave of Ukrainian refugees would further test the continent’s resources. An energy crisis across Europe has forced significant cutbacks and the continent — where inflation stands at 11 percent — could be on the brink of a recession.

The United States, which is located across the Atlantic from the fighting, has a stronger economic system and therefore more patience. Biden has repeatedly said that he would not pressure Zelenskyy to make a deal to end the war, and the Ukrainian president has vowed not to negotiate with Putin unless all of his nation’s land is returned.

But with the war having no end in sight, Zelenskyy’s sentiment has begun testing the patience of European leaders. White House officials believe that Biden must lobby European leaders for a continuation of the course as attacks on civilians intensify.

“Russia is again trying to put fear into the hearts of the Ukrainian people and to make it that much harder on them as winter is now upon them,” John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, said Friday. “We are going to remain undeterred in helping Ukraine defend itself.”

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