Zelenskiy video appeal to Congress for more help cancelled as Republicans present Biden with funding ultimatum

Zelenskiy video appeal to Congress for more help cancelled as Republicans present Biden with funding ultimatum
Zelenskiy had been due to aggress Congress and appeal for more aid, but his speech was cancelled at the last minute. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin December 6, 2023

An appeal Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had been due to make to the US congress for more money via video link on December 5 was cancelled at the last minute as the Speaker of the House issued an ultimatum to US President Joe Biden: “No new funding for Ukraine unless funding for a new fence on the southern border is approved.”

Ukraine is running out of money again after Zelenskiy recently signed off Ukraine's 2024 budget that includes the anticipation of $43bn worth of funding from international partners, but the Ministry of Finance (MinFin) admits that $29bn is still unaccounted for.

Bankova is becoming increasingly desperate for funds, as the government has been forced to work out a Plan B to cover next year’s spending that says it will resort to simply turning on the printing presses if more funds are not promised by its international partners.

The MinFIn Economic Policy Advisory Committee issued a working paper on December 5 entitled Financing democracy that laid out a plan to put Ukraine’s funding on a more stable basis as part of the appeal for Ukraine’s international partners to continue to fund the government’s operations during its existential struggle with Russia.

US funding for Ukraine has become ensnared in US domestic politics, where House Republicans have linked funding for Ukraine together with a domestic immigration crisis, as illegal entries to the US across the porous southern border soar and Ukraine’s US funding is increasingly in doubt as a result.

Zelenskiy appeared in front of Congress last year just before Christmas to a rapturous reception to ask for more financial and military aid, but the mood towards Ukraine has cooled dramatically since then as palpable Ukraine fatigue has set in.

An EU four-year €50bn support programme is also looking increasingly uncertain after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban dramatically upped his rhetoric this week, threatening to veto the start of Ukraine’s accession talks and calling for the issue to be taken off the agenda for the December 14-15 EU summit. Ukrainian diplomats have recently travelled to Brussels to try to rally support ahead of the gathering, although the EU elite are all still firmly behind Ukraine and have also been working on a Plan B to circumnavigate Hungary’s veto. All 27 members of the EU have to approve the start of accession talks, giving Hungary a de facto veto.

It remains unclear why Zelenskiy cancelled the planned a video appearance before US Senators on December 5. The meeting was crucial, as it involved discussions on an emergency aid package for Kyiv, including Biden’s proposed $61bn of financial aid that has been snarled up in internal wrangling.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer informed reporters of the cancellation, stating: "Zelenskiy, by the way, could not make it to something happened at the last minute to our briefing."

The announcement followed what the US press called an "Ultimatum to Biden" by Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson, who explicitly linked further aid to Ukraine with the US’ immigration reform. Johnson's letter to the President insists that assistance to Ukraine "will depend on the adoption of fundamental changes to US border security laws."

With the deadline for Ukraine aid fast approaching, the US government admitted this week that it will run out of money for Ukraine by the end of the year if no new allocations of aid are made.

Bankova is clearly becoming increasingly worried by the end of financial support at a time when the fighting on the battlefield has reached a stalemate and the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) are in desperate need for more resources.

Andriy Yermak, Zelenskiy's chief of staff, voiced these fears during his visit to the US Institute for Peace in Washington this week to lobby for more help. "If the United States postpones military aid to Ukraine, there is a 'big risk' the country could lose its war with Russia," Yermak said, emphasising the urgency for Congress to approve the aid.

After pressing the AFU to go on the offensive on the southern regions at a secret meeting this summer, top US officials are now acknowledging the counter-offensive has failed, which has fuelled the fatigue. Yermak's statements are seen by some as a pre-emptive effort to shift the blame on the failure to Washington in the event of a Ukrainian defeat and subsequent territorial negotiations. The slow progress has also fuelled the suggestion that Ukraine should cut its losses and begin ceasefire talks with the Kremlin – something that Russia has rejected out of hand after an early deal cut in Istanbul last year was rejected by the US. Top Ukrainian politician David Arakhamia confirmed in December for the seventh time a peace deal was agreed in March 2022.

Senate Republicans have connected Biden's foreign defence funding to the migrant crisis at the southern US border. This move could further delay, or even indefinitely stall, the Ukraine aid.

Zelenskiy's no-show at the Senate forum, which included a classified briefing, has only heightened what is turning into a financial crisis for Bankova. Zelenskiy is also coming under increasing pressure at home, where he has been accused of authoritarian traits in a recent interview with Kyiv mayor Vitaly Klitschko among others.

In the latest criticism, former Zelenskiy adviser and confidant Oleksii Arestovich painted a bleak picture of Ukraine’s position, saying that Ukraine made the strategic choice “in the conflict of Globalists and Realists, we bet on the wrong side.” Globalists want to see Ukrainian democracy triumph over Russia’s autocratic regime and expand Nato, whereas the Realists find the conflict is destabilising the European economies and want Ukraine to return to neutrality and bring the war to an end as soon as possible.