Joe Biden This week he has offered the image of strength and determination that often resists him. The secret and night trip by train to kyiv; the appearance next to Volodimir Zelensky in front of the monastery of San Miguel, a symbol of resistance, wearing aviator glasses; the energetic speech in Poland the next day.
It has been quite a powerful show to close ranks around Ukraine, show determination on the part of the world’s leading power and cement the support of its allies.
The president has repeated this week in kyiv and Warsaw the same mantras that he has defended for a year, when Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of his neighboring country: the “unwavering” support to Ukraine, “as long as necessary”; Russian aggression not only has not divided the US and its allies, but they are now “more united and determined than ever»; “Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia” and the international response to Putin is the choice “between democracy that uplifts the human spirit and the brutal hand of the dictator that destroys it.”
Biden sought to make clear that, one year and $113 billion in military and financial aid after the start of the war, US support for Ukraine has not wavered. The question, when the anniversary of the invasion is fulfilled, is how much longer and under what conditions will continue not to.
Support for arms shipments from the US to Ukraine has fallen to 58% among citizens, down from 73% in April last year.
Popular commitment to the Ukrainian cause is uneven in the European Union -Hungary, as an example of skepticism; the Baltic countries and Poland the opposite – and the US is no exception. The weariness of war, the inflation linked to it, the impact on public coffers of a conflict on the other side of the world increase with the passing of the months. Earlier this week, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that support for arms shipments had fallen to 58% of Americansin front of 73% April last year. Another recent poll, this time by AP/NORC, assured that the Americans who support this measure has gone from 60% in May of last year to the current 48%.
Fewer and fewer are also looking favorably on other US interventions in the war, such as receiving refugees from Ukraine, sending economic aid, and even imposition of sanctions on Russia. Citizens now prioritize avoiding damage to the US economy much more than imposing effective sanctions against Russia. On all of these issues, Republicans are far more averse to extending aid to Ukraine.
Political cracks over support for Zelenski
There is nothing to suggest that this trend is going to change, unless there are changes in the dynamics at the front (for example, due to attacks with non-conventional weapons or an extension to other countries). Russia and Ukraine seem willing to prolong the battle in the east and south of the invaded country and kyiv will require more and better weapons from the US, all paid for by taxpayers.
To further complicate matters, the offensives and counter-offensives that are expected this spring – the one expected by Russia could have already begun – come at a delicate moment in the US political scene. Military and economic aid shipments to Ukraine will match the nonegotiation of the extension of the debt ceilingan issue that pits Democrats and Republicans against each other.
The former seek to approve it, as has been done on countless occasions in recent decades, and raise taxes on large corporations and billionaires to contain public debt, while the latter bet on spending cuts. Discuss tax cuts or increases as the war drags on it could be a political bombshell. Because, at the same time that popular support in the US for the war is deteriorating – or precisely because of it – the political cracks are becoming more and more apparent.
A minority group, but highly mediated, of deputies from the most radical faction of the Republicans demands cut off the tap now to Ukraine. This month they presented the legislative proposal ‘Fatigue with Ukraine’ to stop sending money to kyiv.
That will not have an impact at the moment, because the majority position of both parties is in support of Ukraine and the Republican leaders remain far from that line. But the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, kevin mccarthyHe has such a small majority that he will have to negotiate and make concessions with the radical wing, which was about to leave him without that presidency when he launched it in January.
The passing of the months will add another element that will cloud relations with Ukraine: the imminence of the 2024 presidential elections. If the war ends up becoming a central issue in the elections, it will not be in kyiv’s interests.
Donald Trump, still the strongest voice in the Republican Party and a candidate for re-election, is on the campaign trail and has argued that the war must end now, a point of view that could be very popular with the electorate but would imply broad concessions -also territorial- to Russia.
The problem for Ukraine is that Trump is not alone in it. Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida and the main candidate to overthrow the former president in primaries, was a fierce critic of Russia, its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and his support for separatists in the Donbas in his years as a deputy. He went so far as to accuse Barack Obama of weakness in a 2015 interview for not having armed Ukraine. He has now changed his mind: «I don’t think it suits us get into a proxy war with chinagetting involved for things like border territories or Crimea ».
It remains to be seen how long Biden can maintain that position of determination and strength that he displayed this week in kyiv and Warsaw. But time will only fuel the political and electoral pressures that are playing against Ukraine.