The US will host the Ukraine Defense Contact Group despite the withdrawal of funds

US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III will continue to host the next Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG) despite a decision by Congress to block any further military aid to the war-torn country.

Austin was released from the hospital this week after a series of medical tests and evaluations. On January 17, 2024, the Department of Defense (DoD) revealed that Austin will be working from home as he recovers, meaning he will attend the UDCG practically.

In a statement held on January 16, detailing Austin’s discussion with Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, a Pentagon spokesman reiterated that the US remains “committed to supporting the Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression”.

Instead, Defense Department Comptroller Michael McCord informed Congress in late December 2023 that the remaining $1 billion earmarked for Ukraine, approved by Congress in the last supplemental budget in October, will now be is required to replace US weapons stockpiles provided in Ukraine.

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GlobalData defense analyst Wilson Jones pointed out that “it costs nothing to host the UDCG. The Biden administration’s position continues to support military aid, and not hosting would mean a change in direction.

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“The official US position (at least in the executive branch) is that Ukraine will get weapons once Congress approves the money.”

The next UDCG, to be held at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on January 23, will see Austin perform a difficult balancing act, financially hampered by the partisan politics at play in Washington.

Biden is pushing for yet another supplemental budget

“Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the power of the purse, or the ability to tax and spend government money,” Jones noted.

“The Biden administration has so far put a lot of effort into trying to convince the opposition in Congress to pass funding for Ukraine. However, Biden also invoked executive authority to provide military aid to Israel, circumventing that rule, but did not do so for Ukraine.”

Biden and Zelenskyy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (left) and US President Joe Biden (right) underline the US government’s support for Ukraine’s struggle for freedom on December 12, 2023. Credit: US Embassy in Ukraine.

Republicans are reluctant to compromise on Ukraine, fearing it would hand US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, a victory before the next US election in November.

“The problem is that, like everything in Washington these days, the transfer of aid has become politicized,” noted Fox Walker, another defense analyst at GlobalData.

“House Republicans have called for aid to Ukraine to be tied to an immigration bill. The Senate has reached a bipartisan deal on immigration, but Republicans now say they won’t vote on anything until a Republican is back in the White House.”

Europe takes up the mantle

Earlier this week, the UK government locked down a bilateral deal to provide military aid to Ukraine, the first G7 country to do so.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has confirmed that Britain will provide £2.5 billion ($3.18 billion) in military aid to Ukraine in 2024/25, a £200 million increase on the previous two years.

Similarly, the European Parliament tabled a motion for a resolution to strip Hungary of its right to vote and freeze EU funds to the Union’s largest recipient.

Hungary is widely seen as Russia’s EU ally.

The proposal of the European Parliament explained that “the rule of law has deteriorated in Hungary as a result of the systematic actions of its government; considering that this situation has not been adequately addressed, many concerns remain and many issues continue to arise.”

Finnish MEP Petri Sarvamaa posted on social media that he had sent a letter to the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, condemning Hungary’s “serious and persistent violation of EU values”. Credit: X post.

While this serves as ample pretext, the vote will also help the EU overcome extreme efforts to block 50 billion euros ($55 billion) military aid package to Ukraine in its war against the invading Russian forces.

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