Espreso. Global

US political crisis will force EU to help Ukraine more - diplomat Bryza

8 October, 2023 Sunday

Matthew Bryza, former Assistant Secretary of State and former Director for European and Eurasian Affairs at the US National Security Council, discusses the US political crisis and how it will affect aid to Ukraine in an interview with Espreso TV


The unexpected resignation of Speaker McCartney has led to an unpleasant story - a 45-day US spending bill with no aid for Ukraine. To say we are concerned is an understatement.

That was a complete surprise that the money for Ukraine was taken out of the spending bill to keep our government open. Support for Ukraine is strong throughout the US Congress, even among the Republicans. It's only a small group of the most radical pro-Trump Republicans who for reasons I still don't fully understand don't want to provide support to Ukraine. They were also the ones who wanted the government to have to stop functioning by denying it any money. And to avoid the shutting down of the government then speaker McCarthy had to make a compromise. He chose the compromise to eliminate the aid for Ukraine in this spending bill, but there will be another spending bill in 45 days. And of course, everyone's hope except those radical republicans is that the money for Ukraine will be in that next spending bill.

But now what matters most is who will be elected to replace speaker McCarthy. There are two main candidates. One Steve Scalise, who's a very senior republican from the state of Louisiana. He's very much in favor of more support for Ukraine as Biden says as long as it takes. But his opponent Jim Jordan of Ohio is against more support for Ukraine. So who's elected speaker decides what bills come for a vote so he can block aid for Ukraine if he so desires and there's nothing President Biden can do but to try to persuade him.

This is a completely unexpected turn of events and to me it's deeply embarrassing for the United States democratic system because it shows how close we are to pure dysfunctionality.

The US helps us like few other countries in the world, but we were hoping for more assistance, particularly in the winter campaign at the front. We were hoping that President Biden would take the plunge and sign the documents to transfer ATACMS to us.

As you and I discussed a few weeks ago, Mr. Borkovskyi, the Biden Administration was finally persuaded to provide Ukraine ATACMS and was moving toward F-16s because finally they realized that Ukraine really does need these weapons and is not going to use them to target Russian territory. And without them Ukraine can't do what Washington demands, which is make progress on the battlefield.

This debacle, this mess of the US political system again was completely unexpected, and there's no way to tell at this point what's going to happen.

Other than that, I think that in the longer run it's politically unsustainable for whomever becomes the Speaker of the House of Representatives not to resume support for Ukraine, but it's just impossible to tell now how quickly that could be and how large that assistance might be as well. There's, I understand, five billion dollars worth of assistance still available unused for Ukraine, and that's a little over two months worth at the pace that it's been spent about 2.7 billion dollars per month. So about two more months of assistance.

I also saw that just now as I was coming here that there was a boat carrying Iranian weapons apparently to Hootie Rebels with one million rounds of ammunition and thousands of Iranian made machine guns that the US found confiscated and will send those weapons to Ukraine, but still Ukraine can't win a war based on those sorts of random ad hoc discoveries of weapons. The US has to come up with the funding.

Certain signals, very often from anonymous sources in the White House or retired generals, not only in the US but also in the UK, are worrisome. They are starting to say that they may be running out of stocks (referring to the British statement), they will help Ukraine, but we should keep in mind that their assistance is not limitless. What will happen in a few months, when Trump's supporters in the US for example say: we have already helped Ukraine enough (and name the amount of $100 billion), let's reduce the aid. Money and weapons - what are the current trends in American and European politics?

The core of politics is money and spending. And in the United States system it is the Congress that decides how much money is going to be available for the goals that the president wants to pursue. That's the greatest power of the US Congress. So our democratic system is difficult to manage. Sometimes these sorts of things happen. But as Winston Churchill famously said the Americans ultimately do the right thing after they've tried all the wrong things to do. We're in that mode right now, where we have a group of extreme Republican supporters of President Trump who are nihilistic. They would like to break our government and think that that will make Biden look bad and make Trump look good. So Ukraine is hostage to this process. The bit of good news though in the short term, two bits of good news. In the long run I think that the assistance will be there because of what I just said about Winston Churchill. Ultimately the US will do the right thing.

In the short run what's positive is that this is also a wake up for our European allies to press them to do more.

The UK has done a lot. It's true. Germany's done a lot. Estonia has done the most on a per capita basis. There are others who haven't done much like Bulgaria and need to do more. I hope that now there will be a bit of political crisis also inside the European Union to realize they need to do even more to help Ukraine.

International politics is going through hard times for Ukraine, and certain changes are taking place. In addition to Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, we have received Slovakian Robert Fico. Ukrainian-Polish relations have deteriorated rapidly, and I want to believe that they will improve thanks to the efforts of Ukrainian and Polish politicians. But there is a feeling that the global situation may worsen for us.

That's true. Every political issue, every political problem, every war in my lifetime has at some point lost the interest of the international community. The international interest in this war however has been strong and remains strong. It's still very strong but political systems evolve and so you will recall that there was very strong support for Ukraine in Slovakia at the beginning of the war and Slovakia welcomed many Ukrainian refugees. And same with Poland of course. But then as domestic politics have intervened and as economic conditions in both countries have grown more complicated and difficult for farmers with Ukrainian wheat, for example. We have seen the support. Not so much dissipate. I think that in Slovakia and Poland everybody still knows it's essential that Ukraine wins, but people have become more parochial, more selfish, more focused on their own situation and less empathetic to Ukraine. But at the end of the day, it's absolutely clear, Slovakia and Poland know Ukraine must win this war.

We're in one of those moments where the people have temporarily forgotten and we're in sort of a stalemate on the battlefield as well. But as I think as time flows forward, as the Polish election passes, and then as the Slovak political system settles down, after the Fico reelection, a man who has long been a supporter of Putin. Then I think we'll see the support for Ukraine resume. But it's easy for me to say sitting here. If I were Ukrainian, I would be quite disturbed and I am disturbed.

It's horrible the way Poland and Jarsolaw Kaczynski have behaved toward Ukraine. It is so selfish to impose economic hardship on Ukraine at this moment because of the interest of Polish farmers in an election. It's strategically self-defeating.

The next meeting of the Istanbul format is being prepared. What could be the agenda, what might be discussed there? The issue of the "peace formula" can be interpreted in different countries, in different political structures, quite differently - Volodymyr Zelenskyy voiced our Ukrainian position, but each country has its own vision of resolving the war.

That's a great question because I totally agree that the various countries in the transatlantic family have various visions of how the war should end or proceed. So president Erdogan has been consistent in a few things, and I presume he will have the main role of setting the agenda. He has been clear from the very beginning in condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine and supporting Ukraine's territorial integrity and condemning the annexation of Crimea and the other four regions as well as the occupation of Donbas.

He's been consistent in making sure Turkey provides substantial military assistance to Ukraine, but he's also been consistent in wanting to remain a potential mediator and maintaining his lines of communication to Putin.

I think Erdogan is really proud of the grain deal that he brokered. I think on the agenda will be the resurrection of the grain deal. Whereas Ukraine seems to perform maybe sending its grain and other cargo via ships along the NATO coastline of Romania and Bulgaria. So Erdogan will want to try to resurrect the grain deal, and what he's also been consistent about is simply wanting the war to end, wanting peace. He views Turkey's role in international relations as being a stabilizing force and a country that's devoted to finding peace.

In principle, even regardless of how unfair the situation may be on the ground politically, in this case for Ukraine, as a human being he wants people to stop being killed. In the United States, I think that's not where the Biden Administration is.

The Biden Administration believes Ukraine should decide how to end the war but is afraid or had been afraid of escalation by Russia to the use of nuclear weapons, which I think is a mistake.

The European Union has been very clear in saying the same. Ukraine needs to get all the support it needs and needs to decide how to end the war on its own. Those are the issues that will be on the agenda if Erdogan sets it. How do we get to peace? How do we mediate? How do we get Ukraine's territorial Integrity respected and how do we get the grain flowing again?

A few weeks have passed since President Zelensky and the Ukrainian delegation visited Washington. There were very loud statements and a lot of emotions. There were also meetings, including with one of the patriarchs of American diplomacy, Kissinger. American diplomacy is extremely eloquent and powerful, but there are very different currents. How will they try to turn around US-Ukrainian cooperation now? The best help is to provide heavy weapons. Russians would like to turn the Russian-Ukrainian war into a ground, infantry war, so our task is to get heavy artillery, missile systems, heavy tanks-not 30 Abrams, but 230. But this means that Russians can use unconventional threats, and they are hinting at this.

To start with the former state secretary Kissinger. I mean, he's considered to be the most experienced and one of the wisest s and students of diplomacy in US history. Having interacted with him in ic career, I found his insights profound but I didn't always agree with him. And I would guess that perhaps the Ukrainian delegation that met with him probably didn't agree with everything he said.

We recall that Kissinger at the beginning of the war was suggesting maybe it would be better for Ukraine to find a way to make peace, as Erdogan favors, rather than continuing the war. And then he changed his perspective. I think that the deep wisdom of Henry Kissinger which reflects the need for Ukraine to end this war on its terms is what will prevail in Washington ultimately.

So we're going through this moment of a real political insanity in Washington that has politicized the arm shipments to Ukraine and the whole issue of being deterred by Russia's potential use of non-conventional weapons or nuclear weapons. That's really not even being part of the debate right now. The debate is not even that rational. It's just a silly battle over the Trumpians versus the non-Trumpians in the Republican party that will be settled.

And I think that we will see them. I hope and I believe we will see them as I mentioned before the Biden Administration getting the money to send more things and more ATACMS to Ukraine. So Ukraine again can control its own destiny as much as possible. And one more point is I would guess Henry Kissinger, like a lot of people in Washington, cannot see right now how Ukraine could possibly force all Russian military forces out of Crimea and out of Donbas because that is a heck of a challenge. But there are political military experts in my circle of friends in Washington who were seeing that Ukraine was moving in that direction - A) with its incremental progress on the battlefield, toward the Sea of Azov. And hopefully cutting off the land bridge connecting Donbas to Crimea. And B) with ATACMS and other longer-ranged missile systems and the Ukrainian maritime drones being able to threaten The Kerch strait bridge.

So it's conceivable that Ukraine will soon be able to cut off Crimea without killing all the Russian forces there, and that would force Putin to negotiate on terms that would be ultimately much more favorable to Ukraine.

Aren't we at risk of an "Afghanistan syndrome" when, for example, a presidential candidate, Trump or someone in his circle, starts shedding crocodile tears like, we have helped Ukraine very well, but now it's time to focus on the problems of Pennsylvania farmers? The American election campaign can still bring many unpleasant surprises, and the task of Ukrainian politicians is to be proactive. We have received advice and deadlines from the American authorities to implement reforms. If we do not meet these deadlines, will this affect the provision of US assistance? I am also interested in the situation with the lendlease.

People in the Republican party, who are opposed to Ukraine, are looking for any excuse to justify their position because they think it makes Donald Trump like them more. Pointing to enduring corruption in Ukraine and in whatever insufficient means but insufficient property form, those are vulnerabilities that those people will exploit.

As far as the Zelensky government's progress on reform to date, I haven't been following it. I think nobody has been following it as closely as before the war because of course, we're all focused on the war. But if you look at the way he's trying to squeeze corruption out of the Ministry of Defense, for example, on procurement issues and other ones the story seems positive. At the end of the day though, it's not so much the domestic reform situation in Ukraine that's going to determine whether US assistance continues. It really is first and foremost who is selected as the speaker of the US House of Representatives. And then who wins the election in November of course in 2024. And if it's Trump, he has said he would figure out how to stop the war in 24 hours.

I actually don't think that he would stop assistance to Ukraine. He realized when he was president that the US had to provide javelins to Ukraine, so it could protect itself and thank goodness that happened.

He doesn't really understand the intricacies of geopolitics very well and everything that he does is transactional. He wants to know what he's going to benefit from taking any step.

My guess is president Zelensky will figure out how Ukraine can do what it needs to do to please whomever. The speaker of the House is ultimately and to please the president of the United States whoever that is because ultimately even though the United States had moments of isolationism. Even it is very founded with our first President George Washington advising Americans forever to avoid he called them foreign entanglements. The United States has always had a motivation of idealism that in a self-image that the US is going to make the world safe for democracy. I think those trends are continuing in US politics and they will for as long as you and I and your viewers are watching US politics.

As far as lendlease goes, no it's not possible right now because the House of Representatives is unable to meet and do any official business because it has no speaker. Only when there is a new speaker elected will the House of Representatives get back to business, and the speaker controls what proposals or what bills are able to be voted upon. And so if the speaker is the one gentleman I mentioned from Ohio - Jim Jordan. I think he will simply never bring such a bill to the floor of the House of Representatives to be voted upon. So there'll be no legislative way for Biden to do anything. But the other one, if Steve Scalise from Louisiana is chosen as a speaker. Then I am certain he will want bills like the lend lease proposal to make it to a vote in the Congress. And if there is such a vote, I have no doubt that the bill will pass and become a law. But for now, there's no way to predict the future because the legislative schedule or agenda really depends entirely on who is elected as the next Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Glory to Ukraine !

Glory to heroes!


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