House Republicans Continue To Hold Up Aid To Ukraine

Heather Cox Richardson

Both global and national affairs appeared to shift over the holiday weekend. Events of the past week or so highlighted the global stakes of not stopping the aggression of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. In turn, those global stakes highlighted that Trump’s MAGA Republicans are strengthening Putin’s hand. 

Since October, MAGA Republicans have managed to delay a national security supplemental bill that would provide additional aid to Ukraine. Although a bipartisan majority of Congress supports the measure, House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) recessed the House on Thursday without taking it up, just days after former president Trump attacked the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and suggested he would urge Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to U.S. allies if they didn’t meet a guideline of spending 2% of their gross domestic product on their own military forces. 

On Friday, February 16, Russian authorities murdered opposition leader Alexei Navalny in prison, where he was being held on trumped-up charges, and on Saturday, Russian forces advanced into the front-line city of Avdiivka. 

The Munich Security Conference, the world’s largest gathering on international security policy, met this year in the midst of these events, from Friday, February 16, to Sunday, February 18. At Saturday’s lunch, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark made a surprise announcement. Denmark, she said, will donate all its artillery to Ukraine. She suggested other countries, too, could do more than they already have.

According to Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer of Foreign Policy, Frederiksen’s announcement “left attendees grappling with some existential questions: Are they prepared not just to help Ukraine but also to defend Europe from a possible Russian attack on a NATO country? Are democracies capable of standing up against the threat of territory-grabbing dictatorships like Russian President Vladimir Putin’s?”

Sweden today announced it will donate about $682 million in equipment and cash to Ukraine, its 15th aid package to Ukraine since the 2022 Russian invasion. The European Union today announced it is committing 83 million euros, or about $89 million, in humanitarian aid for those in Ukraine and Moldova affected by the war. Three weeks ago it approved $54 billion in military aid.

There is increasing pressure, as well, to transfer Russia’s frozen assets to Ukraine. On Saturday, February 17, the U.S. Justice Department, which is in charge of a task force called “KleptoCapture,” transferred $500,000 in forfeited Russian funds to Estonia for fixing Ukraine’s electrical transmission and distribution systems. Biden promised more sanctions against Russia on Friday and has again called for House Republicans to pass the national security supplemental bill. 

Indeed, the real elephant in the room is the fact that MAGA Republicans in the House are refusing to commit more U.S. aid. The Institute for the Study of War, a nonprofit research organization, assessed on Sunday that “delays in Western security assistance to Ukraine are likely helping Russia launch…offensive operations along several sectors of the frontline in order to place pressure on Ukrainian forces along multiple axes.” 

MAGA Republicans are refusing that aid although it is popular both in Congress and among Americans at large. A Pew study released Friday, before news of Navalny’s murder broke, showed that 74% of Americans believe the war in Ukraine is important to U.S. interests; 59% say it’s important to them personally. 

House speaker Johnson condemned Putin as “a vicious dictator” over the weekend and said he was “likely directly responsible” for Navalny’s death. But on Monday he posted to Twitter a photograph of him standing alongside Trump, apparently at Trump’s West Palm Beach golf club, flashing a smile and a thumbs-up sign. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has vowed to try to throw Johnson out of the speaker’s chair if he even brings Ukraine funding to the floor. Trump himself referred to Navalny’s murder on Sunday simply by calling it a “sudden death” before launching into an attack on the United States.

On Sunday, former representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) came out and said it: the Republican Party has a “Putin wing.” She said: “The issue of this election cycle is making sure the Putin wing of the Republican Party does not take over the West Wing of the White House.” Conservative pundit Bill Kristol agreed, in italics: “The likely nominee of one of our two major political parties is pro–Vladimir Putin. This is an astonishing fact. It is an appalling fact. It has to be a central fact of the 2024 campaign.”

Russian authorities have cracked down on those expressing sorrow for the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and are refusing to hand over his body to his mother and lawyer, who flew to the penal colony north of the Arctic Circle to reclaim it, saying they need to keep the body for “chemical analysis.”

Meanwhile, a Russian who defected to Ukraine last year has been killed in Spain, and Russian authorities have arrested for “treason” a dual Russia-U.S. citizen who lives in Los Angeles as she traveled in Russia after having participated in pro-Ukraine rallies.

Putin is facing an election next month, and he may have intended the murder of Navalny to frighten other opponents and intimidate Russian voters. But it is possible it had the opposite effect. 

Yesterday, Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, stepped into his place, saying: “Putin didn’t only kill Alexei Navalny as a person. He wanted to kill our hope, our freedom, our future. But the most important thing we can do for Alexei and for ourselves is to go on fighting. I will continue Alexei Navalny’s work. Continue to fight for our country. I call on you to stand alongside me. To share not only the grief and unending pain that has enveloped us and won’t let go. I also ask you to share the fury and hate for those who dared to kill our future. I speak to you in the words of Alexei, in which I believe truly: There is no shame in doing little. There is shame in doing nothing. In allowing them to scare you…. By killing Alexei, Putin has killed half of me. Half of my heart and my soul. But I have another half and it tells me that I don’t have the right to give in.”

Today she urged the European Union not to recognize the results of Russia’s March election, saying that “a president who assassinated his main political opponent cannot be legitimate by definition.”  

In the U.S., there has not been any apparent move from House Republicans to come back into session to approve the national security package. Indeed, Trump appears to be strengthening his hand over the mechanics of the Republican Party, with the state parties he salted with loyalists lining up behind him, supporters in Congress killing legislation at his demand, and lawmakers who are interested in actually making laws exiting Congress out of fear or frustration. 

But the apparent support of MAGA Republicans for Putin is unlikely to play well in the U.S. Today, Republican candidate for president Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina, tricked the Fox News Channel into covering live what she said was a major speech, likely leading producers to think she was withdrawing. Rather than doing so, she came out swinging with an attack on Trump. 

Aaron Rupar of Public Notice recorded her comments, spoken with the backdrop of the past week in everyone’s mind. Americans “deserve a real choice,” she said, “not a Soviet-style election where there’s only one candidate and he gets 99 percent of the vote.”

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