News Article

Ukraine’s allies plan US charm offensive
October 30, 2023


By: Gabirel Gavin, Jacopo Barigazzi, and Eric Bazail-Eimil

European politicians aim to tour the U.S. to shore up support for Ukraine — a response to calls by some Republican Party lawmakers for Washington to cut the flow of aid, military hardware and funds to Kyiv.

“We need to find ways to reach out to [the public] on both sides of the Atlantic — not to forget that there are actual electorates that see their problems in a certain way,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told POLITICO. “We have a plan to travel … to separate states, meeting — for example — the companies that sell equipment that actually create jobs in the U.S. Most of the money that has been spent on Ukraine was actually spent in the U.S.”

A roadshow where Baltic nations and others with close ties to Ukraine speak out in favor of providing continuing support, Landsbergis went on, “might work quite well if they are laid out not just by American politicians, but those who depend on that assistance and on that foreign policy track.”

While Landsbergis didn’t say which other countries might come along on such a road trip, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told POLITICO her country was already reaching out to ordinary Americans.

“My foreign minister was in Arkansas, talking to people and giving his views, so this is something that we are doing all the time,” she said.

There is growing alarm in Washington that aid to Ukraine might fall victim to the deep political divisions in the U.S.

In response, U.S. President Joe Biden has switched up his messaging about the war, arguing that much of the spending on Ukraine actually stays at home — creating jobs and supporting businesses.

“You know, just as in World War II, today patriotic American workers are building the arsenal of democracy and serving the cause of freedom,” he said.

With presidential and congressional elections looming next year, Biden is asking Congress to sign off on a one-time $106 billion national security package that includes funding for Ukraine and Israel.

Republicans are mulling their response, and there is debate in the Senate over whether aid to Ukraine and Israel should be linked.

There is even greater resistance in the Republican-majority House of Representatives.

In his first address as House speaker, Republican Mike Johnson set out his priorities — including shoring up the U.S. border with Mexico and supporting Israel in its war against Hamas — but the list pointedly excluded help for Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Congress cut Ukraine spending from an emergency bill that narrowly avoided a shutdown of the federal government.

In Washington, senators said outreach from European leaders could help shore up support for Kyiv among war-weary voters. 

“I think showing that this is beyond just Ukraine and Russia, that this affects other countries in Europe, that this affects all of us, it’s helpful for that to be reinforced by leaders from other countries,” said Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

Senator Lindsey Graham, a prominent Republican supporter of aid to Ukraine, also told POLITICO it could be “helpful to others.”

Despite the political tremors in his party over helping Ukraine, Graham was confident that support for Kyiv remains solid: “Public opinion’s important, but there’s no way pulling the plug on Ukraine helps us long term.”

Scott Cullinane, director of government affairs at Razom, an NGO advocating for Ukraine that recently hosted a summit with lawmakers in Congress, said, “there is a sense among some Republican members in particular that the U.S. is carrying the burden alone — and that’s very much not the case. By various metrics, European allies are doing as much, or even more in some senses, than we are in terms of the provision of military equipment and in terms of bearing the cost of imposing sanctions.”

Getting Europeans on American roads might help with that message.

“That doesn’t always come across here in the U.S. and members don’t always fully understand the scale of what’s being done in the EU and U.K., so sharing that data with Congress helps bolster and increase support for assisting Ukraine,” he said.

While some politicians are balking at the cost of helping Ukraine, the public still strongly backs Kyiv.

A nationwide U.S. poll, conducted earlier this month, found that 84 percent said Russian President Vladimir Putin poses a danger to U.S. interests, and almost two-thirds believe withdrawing military support would be seen as a sign of weakness by U.S. allies.

But any help from roving European politicians might be useful for the White House.

“The Biden administration is rightly focusing on why this is in the interests of Americans, in terms of the money that stays here at home,” said Karen Donfried, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, now a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School. “The important thing for the Europeans is to show they’re sharing this burden with the U.S. and I think the Balts are a great example in terms of what they’re doing nationally and at EU level.”