KYIV – After a year and a half of war, Ukraine’s leaders now have a new reason to worry: Mounting political chaos in America is threatening to derail their supply of money and weapons.
Days after lawmakers shelved a vital U.S. plan to send billions of dollars in aid to Kyiv, U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted by his own Republican Party colleagues. Aid to Ukraine was named as one of the reasons.
In Kyiv, officials are at a loss as to what might happen next. Their staunchest military ally suddenly looks unreliable, despite assurances from President Biden and others the U.S. will remain steadfast until Ukraine’s invaders are defeated.
“We are freaking out. For us it is a disaster,” said Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, a senior Ukrainian MP who chairs the committee on the country’s integration with the European Union. “We are interested in getting things sorted out so American democracy can function, and so we can restore the bipartisan consensus on supporting their own national interest by supporting Ukraine.”
The hiccup in America comes amid a war that is finely balanced and as some European leaders increasingly are willing to criticize Kyiv and argue against ongoing support for Ukraine.
McCarthy’s historic ousting — no other U.S. House speaker has been deposed before — after Congress voted through an emergency domestic funding package to avert a government shutdown. That deal, a stop-gap 45-day budget to keep the government running, featured no aid to Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government heavily relies on foreign financial and military aid to keep the economy running and expects to receive $42.8 billion from international donors in the coming year. A big chunk of that would come from the United States.
However, now that McCarthy is out, all future U.S. funding for Kyiv is in limbo. It is not clear when a new speaker will be chosen and without one, the American law making machine is stalled.
In public, the Ukrainian government tried to play down the impact of the disarray in Washington on its war effort. “Until a new speaker is elected, the House cannot vote on laws, but all other work, including in committees, continues,” Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said in a statement.
For now Ukraine still has at least an additional $1.6 billion available for use for defense assistance (PDA) and $1.23 billion in direct budget aid, Markarova, the ambassador, said.
A set up
Privately, however, there is dismay and confusion in Kyiv.
“Well, that’s a setup,” one Ukrainian MP told POLITICO.
“Honestly, we are watching for now,” said one Ukrainian government official, who asked not to be identified while discussing sensitive matters.
Ukrainian officials typically avoid expressing public criticism of partners so as not to seem ungrateful. But this week some have expressed shock.
“There is nothing good, but, objectively, we have simply become hostages of their internal politics,” said Ukrainian lawmaker Yaroslav Zheleznyak, first deputy chairman of the parliament committee on finance, after the emergency U.S. budget deal was announced.
The Ukrainian government insists it has built constructive relationships with most potential replacements for the speaker’s post and is continuing to work with American lawmakers on the next package of aid.
“Unfortunately, some [U.S.] lawmakers found it possible to seek trade offs while further aid to Ukraine is in the air,” Vladyslav Faraponov, head of the board of the Institute of American Studies, told POLITICO. “The key message that Kyiv needs to deliver is that we can win together and do it as soon as possible to save a lot of good men and women.”
Jan Cienski contributed reporting from Warsaw.