"Zelensky can't make it to our briefing at 15 p.m., something happened at the last minute." Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer announced the cancellation of the Ukrainian president's scheduled address to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday. Volodymyr Zelensky was due to speak virtually to US representatives, hoping to secure the release of a much-debated but crucial new package for his war-torn country.
Washington is the largest provider of military aid to Kyiv. The U.S. has committed tens of billions of dollars since the Russian invasion in February 2022. But Democratic President Joe Biden's pledge to continue financial support for Ukraine is in serious jeopardy, a worst-case scenario for Kyiv, whose disappointing counteroffensive has failed to bring the hoped-for territorial gains.
The U.S. Congress, which has so far approved the gigantic military, humanitarian and macroeconomic aid packages for Kiev, is composed of two chambers. In the conservative-dominated House of Representatives, a handful of right-wing lawmakers are calling for an immediate end to aid to Kyiv. In the Senate, which has a Democratic majority, the Republican opposition is more in favor of supporting Ukraine.
Ukrainian officials insist they need more weaponry to prevent Russian strikes from plunging millions of people into darkness this winter, as they did last year. The White House itself sounded the alarm on Monday, assuring that US military aid to Ukraine could be cut short in the coming weeks in the absence of a budget agreement with the Republican opposition.
U.S. Migration Policy Aid
"If Congress does not act, by the end of the year we will run out of resources to deliver more weapons and equipment to Ukraine and to provide equipment from U.S. military stockpiles," White House Budget Director Shalanda Young wrote. Aware that the sense of urgency has waned in Washington since the beginning of the war, President Biden had asked on October 20 to couple his request for aid for Ukraine - more than $61 billion - with one for Israel, an ally of the United States, of about $14 billion.
But the leader of the Conservative MPs is also calling for a sharp tightening of the migration policy in the face of the arrival of migrants at the border with Mexico. Which the Democrats, for the moment, refuse. Speaker Mike Johnson drove the point home on Tuesday, saying in a letter to the White House that no new aid to Ukraine would be passed without a "radical change" in U.S. immigration policy.
Anticipating the risk of fatigue of the great American ally, President Zelensky went to Washington in person in September, meeting Joe Biden but also congressional leaders with whom he had long exchanges. But his visit did not have the desired effect: mired in a series of internal crises that led to the impeachment of the previous speaker, Congress ultimately did not approve new funds for its offensive.
Will the current negotiations have a more favourable outcome? "I remain quite confident that, despite the dramatization of the moment, we are pretty good in 2024," a European source said on Monday, although he did not rule out a "deadlock", given the very strong dissension within the parliament of the world's largest economy.