Stalled US aid for Ukraine underscores Republicans’ shift

At about 2 a.m. last Tuesday, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin stood on the Senate floor and explained why he opposed sending more aid to help Ukraine fend off the invasion launched in 2022 by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I don’t like this reality,” Johnson said. “Vladimir Putin is an evil war criminal.” But he quickly added: “Vladimir Putin will not lose this war.”

That argument — that the Russian president cannot be stopped so there’s no point in using American taxpayer dollars against him — marks a new stage in the Republican Party’s growing acceptance of Russian expansionism in the age of Donald Trump.

The GOP has been softening its stance on Russia ever since Trump won the 2016 election following Russian hacking of his Democratic opponents. There are several reasons for the shift. Among them, Putin is holding himself out as an international champion of conservative Christian values and the GOP is growing increasingly skeptical of overseas entanglements. Then there’s Trump’s personal embrace of the Russian leader.

Now the GOP’s ambivalence on Russia has stalled additional aid to Ukraine at a pivotal time in the war.

The Senate last week passed a foreign aid package that included $61 billion for Ukraine on a 70-29 vote, but Johnson was one of a majority of the Republicans to vote against the bill after their late-night stand to block it. In the Republican-controlled House, Speaker Mike Johnson said his chamber will not be “rushed” to pass the measure, even as Ukraine’s military warns of dire shortages of ammunition and artillery.

Many Republicans are openly frustrated that their colleagues don’t see the benefits of helping Ukraine. Putin and his allies have banked on democracies wearying of aiding Kyiv, and Putin’s GOP critics warn that NATO countries in eastern Europe could become targets of an emboldened Russia that believes the U.S. won’t counter it.

“Putin is losing,” Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said on the floor before Johnson’s speech. “This is not a stalemate.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was one of 22 Republican senators to back the package, while 26 opposed it.

The divide within the party was on stark display Friday with the prison death of Russian opposition figure and anti-corruption advocate Alexei Navalny, which President Joe Biden and other world leaders blamed on Putin. Trump notably stood aside from that chorus Monday in his first public comment on the matter that referred to Navalny by name.


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