As Americans prepare to vote in Tuesday’s midterm elections, Europeans wonder whether a Republican win could mean a dial-back of US support for Ukraine and what impact this could have across the Atlantic.
Although they don’t often upend American foreign policy, observers fear this year could be an exception to the rule.
Since the start of Russia’s invasion, Washington has spearheaded international efforts and provided Ukraine with crucial military, economic, and diplomatic support.
Over the last nine months, US President Joe Biden’s efforts to support Ukraine have enjoyed a rare level of backing at a national, public, transatlantic and bipartisan level.
Through a series of three supplemental funding packages, Congress has allocated more than $65 billion in military, economic and food aid to Ukraine since the start of the invasion.
The last time the Americans had spent that much in aid on one country in a single year was during the Vietnam War.
A recent poll conducted in early October found that 73% of Americans believed the US should maintain support for Ukraine, with 66% of respondents favouring continued military aid, up from 51% in a similar August poll.
However, recent statements from both political sides sent mixed signals and were seen as an indication that such support cannot necessarily be taken for granted.
Among those were comments by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that a Republican-controlled House wouldn’t continue to issue “blank check” funding for Ukraine.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), on the other hand, said a Republican Senate majority “will focus its oversight on ensuring timely delivery of needed weapons and greater allied assistance to Ukraine.”
But even Biden himself said he is “worried” that US support for Ukraine could be undermined if the Republicans win.
On the other side of the political aisle, a letter sent to Biden by a group of 30 progressive Democrat lawmakers calling for a Ukraine ceasefire push was hastily withdrawn in late October following a strong backlash.
The mere suggestion that the US might pull back has caused unease in Western capitals, with conversations with US counterparts sooner or later switching to the crucial question of whether a Republican win upend could the show of support so far.
“If we imagine that a Republican victory now could lead to a Republican president in a year’s time – we’d be playing into Putin’s hands,” one EU diplomat said.
A reduction in US aid could also become a problem for the EU.
“If America pulls back, our military and financial aid commitments will look like peanuts,” a second EU diplomat said, adding that “then we will have a very different conversation about the EU ‘projecting geopolitical power’ than we got used to”.
Meanwhile, many Ukrainian officials worry about how long the money will keep flowing.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy learned the hard way in 2019, when he was dragged into Trump’s Ukraine scandal only weeks after coming into office, how much domestic US politics can affect Ukraine’s reality.
Unsurprisingly, over the past weeks, US officials on tour in Europe have been repeating this message at every opportunity.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, James O’Brien, head of sanctions coordination at the US State Department, also assured that the US’ sanctions policy would not change after the elections.
On a more positive note, some experts believe that although changes might be possible, they won’t affect the overall picture.
“If the Republicans take Congress (or even one House), the domestic political dynamic in Washington will shift toward confrontation with Republicans spending time on investigators, allegations, and accusations,” Daniel Fried, distinguished fellow at Atlantic Council, said.
“In foreign affairs, the Republicans will be split between neo-Reaganist and Trumpist wings,” he said, adding that both wings would push for greater burden sharing on defence spending by US allies.
Fried, however, despite saying Republicans who oppose continued aid to Ukraine could be larger in number, added he believes “US support for Ukraine will continue as Russian atrocities continue and as Ukrainians continue to resist effectively”.