Sunday, April 14, 2024

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Trump is no ghost of the past — he’s haunting Ukraine’s present


Jamie Dettmer serves as the opinion editor for POLITICO Europe.

Last week, Europe and Ukraine experienced a negative preview of what a potential second term for Donald Trump in the United States could entail.

Despite facing legal troubles and criminal charges, the former president’s approval ratings among potential Republican voters remain strong. However, the number of Republican legislators who are against providing assistance to Ukraine for its defense has increased.

Thanks to these legislators, the U.S. House and Senate were forced to remove $6 billion in military assistance for Ukraine from a temporary measure to prevent a government shutdown. This was due to concerns about backlash from their constituents.

The upcoming U.S. presidential election will likely see an increase in unexpected political events, especially if congressional Republicans hold enough power to make them happen. Many politicians will be drawn to Trump’s influence, hoping to use it to their advantage in the election.

Instead of being a relic of previous times, the ex-president continues to have an impact on the current state of Ukraine.

On the previous Wednesday, 93 Republican representatives, including Florida’s Matt Gaetz, supported a change to the defense funding bill that would halt military aid to Ukraine. This was an increase from the 70 Republicans who had previously supported a similar measure three months earlier.

While the amendment was not successful, the opposing side showed a similar disregard for promises made to allies, similar to that of President Trump.

President Trump has displayed a lack of concern for the preservation of Ukrainian borders. He has stated that he could resolve the conflict in just 24 hours by requiring President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin of Russia to come to an agreement. However, this would ultimately result in Russia retaining control over a portion of Ukraine and being able to resume the war at their convenience.

At the same time, he has been pressuring the GOP members to stop providing financial support to Ukraine, claiming that President Joe Biden is prioritizing Ukraine over America. Trump has more influence than Kyiv in this situation, highlighting the limitations of Zelenskyy’s popularity and persuasion skills. Due to concerns of potential disruption, Ukraine has been trying to persuade Republican politicians for several months.

The growing rebellion among the GOP members highlights their prioritization of gaining votes and earning a Trump endorsement over protecting Ukrainian lives. The potential impact of Russian actions on global security appears insignificant to them.

The reduction in American funding is prompting Europeans to consider and prepare for the possibility of Donald Trump returning to the presidency. So far, they have frequently chosen to ignore the situation and remain optimistic, avoiding the potential disruption that his comeback could bring.

Currently, the pressing concerns are how soon the Biden administration can reinstate funding and the potential consequences of any delay on the Ukrainian war effort until the White House can persuade members of Congress to act.

Instead of being a distant memory, the ex-president continues to have an impact on Ukraine’s current state. | Image by Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

On Sunday, Biden expressed his belief that Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will take action to pass a separate bill to provide funding for Ukraine. Leaders from both parties in the Senate have also issued a joint statement assuring their commitment to maintaining support for Ukraine in the upcoming weeks.

Ukraine’s leaders have been minimizing the impact of what they see as a brief setback. The foreign ministry has stated that the “supply of U.S. assistance will remain the same,” and that a previously arranged $3 billion for humanitarian and military aid will be received soon. However, it did recognize that if new funds are not approved, it could affect current programs.

However, there is concern behind the scenes. Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksi Goncharenko expressed worry about the recent vote in the U.S. Congress. He stated that the exclusion of support for Ukraine from the stopgap deal is a cause for alarm, not only for Ukraine, but for Europe as well.

And among the weapons programs that could be impacted is one that Zelenskyy has been lobbying the White House for over the past few months — ATACMS long-range missiles, which would help Ukraine attack and disrupt supply lines, air bases and rail networks even deeper in Russian-occupied territory.

Hence, there may be increased pressure on Germany from its European allies to approve the delivery of Taurus air-launched cruise missiles to Kyiv. This is seen as a way for Europe to demonstrate its ability to step up and make up for the budget issues in Washington. The Taurus has twice the range of the Storm Shadow missile provided by Britain and the SCALP-EG missile from France, making it possible for Ukraine to target areas further away, including those in Crimea.

However, Berlin has hesitated to provide these missiles due to concerns that German technicians may be required to assist with their deployment in Ukraine. Additionally, there are reports that Chancellor Olaf Scholz is apprehensive about the potential escalation of the conflict if the missiles are supplied.

The city of Moscow is actively trying to increase concerns about escalation. Russia is preparing to conduct civil defense drills focused on nuclear issues, with a larger scope and wider reach than previous years. In an effort to heighten worries in the West, the leader of Russia’s main nuclear research center has called for Putin to test a bomb. Additionally, CNN released satellite images revealing the construction of new facilities at a former Soviet testing site.

If the supply of British and French stocks continues to decrease rapidly, and America’s ATACMS becomes involved in budget disputes in Washington, Berlin may become the only remaining supplier. However, this will only happen if Scholz can overcome his apprehension.

Does Germany truly desire to be perceived as hindering Ukraine’s efforts to retaliate by failing to act and exacerbating the damage already inflicted by pro-Trump politicians?