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

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Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe.

Europe and Ukraine got a nasty foretaste last week of what a second Donald Trump presidency in the United States would look like.

As the former president’s polling numbers among likely Republican voters remain high — despite his mounting legal woes and criminal indictments — the number of GOP lawmakers opposed to continuing to aid Ukraine help defend itself has only grown.

And thanks to these lawmakers, the U.S. House and Senate had little choice but to strip out $6 billion of military aid to Ukraine from a stopgap measure to avert a government shutdown — fearing the wrath of their constituents.

Such political shocks and jolts will only increase as the U.S. presidential election gets underway in earnest — that is, of course, if congressional Republicans have the legislative power to deliver them. And like moths drawn to a flame, more and more of them will want to hover near Trump’s light, hoping to bask in it for their own electoral benefit.

Far from being a ghost of the past, the former president is haunting Ukraine’s present.

Last Wednesday, an amendment to the defense funding bill sponsored by Florida Republican Matt Gaetz to stop military assistance to Ukraine attracted 93 Republican votes — a jump from 70 Republicans who had backed a similar measure just three months prior.

But while the amendment failed, the opposition displayed Trumpian disdain for promises made to allies.

Trump himself has, of course, shown great indifference to the fate of Ukrainian territorial integrity, saying he could end the war within 24 hours by insisting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to a settlement — which essentially means Moscow would get to keep a chunk of Ukraine and restart its war whenever convenient.

Meanwhile, he has also been goading the GOP caucus to cut off funds to Ukraine on the grounds that President Joe Biden is putting “Ukraine first” and “America last.” Trump has much greater pull than Kyiv here, demonstrating the limits of even Zelenskyy’s star power and persuasive arts — fearful that they could abruptly upset the apple cart, Ukraine has been lobbying Republican lawmakers for months.

This burgeoning rebellion within the GOP caucus is a dismal reflection of how lawmakers are more interested in clinching votes and attracting a Trump endorsement than saving Ukrainian lives. To them, how Russian success or a rebuff in Ukraine would define the future of global security seems trivial.

And this cut to American funding is now spurring Europeans to think and plan for a possible Trump return to the White House. To date, they have too often opted to avert their gaze and hope for the best, pushing the prospect of the disruption such a comeback would bring to the back of the mind.

In the meantime, the big questions are how quickly the Biden administration can get funding restored, and what harm any shortfall will do to the Ukrainian war effort before the White House can twist congressional arms.

Far from being a ghost of the past, the former president is haunting Ukraine’s present | Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

Biden said Sunday that he “fully expects” Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to “stop the games” and secure the passage of a separate bill for Ukraine funding soon. Senior Senate leaders from both parties have also released a joint statement, signaling their intention to “ensure the U.S. government continues to provide” support for Ukraine in the coming weeks.

On their end, Ukraine’s leaders have been downplaying the repercussions of what they believe will be a temporary hiccup. The country’s foreign ministry said the “flow of U.S. aid won’t change,” and that a pre-agreed $3 billion of humanitarian and military support would soon arrive. However, it did acknowledge that if fresh funds aren’t agreed, “ongoing programmes” could be affected.

But behind the scenes there is worry. “The vote in U.S. Congress is disturbing. The U.S. said they would be with Ukraine as long as it takes, and now see how support of Ukraine is excluded from the stopgap deal. This is the sign of alarm, not only for Ukraine, but for Europe, too,” Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksi Goncharenko told the BBC.

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.

Thus, pressure is likely to now grow on Germany from its European partners that it agree to send Taurus air-launched cruise missiles to Kyiv, in order to show that Europe can step up to compensate for the budget debacle in Washington. The Taurus has double the range of the British-supplied Storm Shadow and France’s SCALP-EG cruise missiles, and it would allow Ukraine to strike further — including targets across all Crimea.

But Berlin has so far dithered on supplying these missiles because — among other reasons — it worries German technicians may be needed on the ground in Ukraine to help with them. Also, there have been news reports that Chancellor Olaf Scholz is fearful that supplying the missiles would mark an escalation in the war.

Moscow, for its part, is keen to stoke escalatory fears. Russia is soon set to hold nuclear-related civil defense drills, which are planned to be more extensive and widespread across the country this year. No doubt to fan Western anxiety, the head of Russia’s top nuclear research facility has publicly urged Putin to test a bomb. And satellite images recently published by CNN showed new facilities being thrown up at a former Soviet test site.

So, with British and French stocks depleting fast, if America’s ATACMS get caught up in Washington’s budget brawl, Berlin could end up being the supplier of last resort — that is if Scholz can overcome his nervousness.

And does Germany really want to be seen as sabotaging Ukraine’s counteroffensive by inaction and compounding the harm already caused by pro-Trump lawmakers?

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