Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Speaking at the Ukrainian American Community Center in Minneapolis last week, Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova described, and decried, "a barrage of missiles and drones on peaceful cities every day."
And yet, Kyiv's envoy to Washington added, "We will stay the course. We need you, our friends, to stay the course with us."
That includes Ukraine's friends in Congress, which should be every representative and senator. But what was once perceived as an unbreakable bond between Washington and Kyiv shows signs of deep strain, leading to a White House warning that U.S. funding for Ukraine's war effort is about to run out.
"I want to be clear," Shalanda D. Young, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote to congressional leaders as part of the Biden administration's latest push for an additional $61.4 billion in aid. "Without congressional action, by the end of the year we will run out of resources to procure more weapons and equipment for Ukraine and to provide equipment from U.S. military stocks.
"There is no magical pot of funding available," the letter continued. "We are out of money — and nearly out of time."
Congress can't allow this to continue. It must help Ukraine defend itself from Russia's full-scale invasion, which threatens not only Ukraine but also NATO nations — and by extension, America.
"Cutting off the flow of U.S. weapons and equipment will kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield, not only putting at risk the gains Ukraine has made, but increasing the likelihood of Russian military victories," wrote Young, who correctly pointed out that "helping Ukraine defend itself and secure its future as a sovereign, democratic, independent, and prosperous nation advances our national security interests. It prevents larger conflict in the region that could involve NATO and put U.S. forces in harm's way and deters future aggression, making us all safer."
According to the administration, as of mid-November Congress had allocated about $111 billion to aid Ukraine. The Defense Department has used 97% of the $62.3 billion it has been allocated, and the State Department has used all of the $4.7 billion in military assistance it has received. About 24% has been used for economic and civilian security assistance like demining, which Young said is "just as essential to Ukraine's survival as military assistance."
In fact, she added, "If Ukraine's economy collapses, they will not be able to keep fighting, full stop. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin understands this well, which is why Russia has made destroying Ukraine's economy central to its strategy — which you can see in its attacks against Ukraine's grain exports and energy infrastructure."
Ukraine "looks to the West not just for military arms, but for day-to-day funding and functioning of the government," Thomas Hanson, a former Foreign Service officer who is now diplomat-in-residence at the University of Minnesota Duluth, told an editorial writer. "Closing off the spigot right at this juncture, as winter is settling in, would just make a very difficult situation that much more dire."
The country, Hanson added, fears falling in priority to U.S. domestic issues in an election year, as well as to other international crises like the war in the Mideast. Those are dynamics Putin may be counting on.
Putin, said Hanson, "has gambled all along that the staying power of the West would not be elastic."
Support is stronger among congressional Democrats than Republicans, as many MAGA lawmakers look to former President Donald Trump for direction. Instead, they should look to the legacy of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, two GOP presidents, among others, who recognized the Russian (or Soviet) threat and built bipartisan consensus to curb it. For their part, Democratic lawmakers should be willing to compromise on key Republican priorities like border security. Finding common ground, Hanson suggested, could come from considering the signal that flinching from supporting Ukraine might send to China.
Among those listening to the Ukrainian ambassador last week in Minneapolis were several soldiers injured in Ukraine, some here to be fitted for prosthetics. Others, tragically, have already paid the ultimate price, and more will die defending their country.
Ukraine has not asked the U.S. for forces — only assistance.
"We are out of money to support Ukraine in this fight," Young's letter concluded. "This isn't a next year problem. The time to help a democratic Ukraine fight against Russian aggression is right now. It is time for Congress to act."
Indeed, Congress should act yet this year. Or next year's problem may be even worse.