Diplomat: US aid to Ukraine hindered by politics, not lack of resources

Jüri Luik
Jüri Luik Source: Siim Lõvi / ERR

The United States' aid to Ukraine is not being held back by support for Israel, but by tensions within domestic American politics, Estonia's permanent representative to NATO Ambassador Jüri Luik believes.

"I don't think there is a problem of strength. If you look at the armaments that are being given to Ukraine, they are also different in a purely technical sense [from what the US is giving to Israel – ed]. Israel, thanks to its modern technology, can also use technological systems that Ukraine does not have and that Ukraine cannot use. In that sense, there is a clear difference, and technically I don't think there is any problem," Luik said on Vikerradio's "Välistund" program on Monday.

"The bigger problem has arisen in Washington, where in the House of Representatives there is a fairly strong, albeit small, group of Ukraine-sceptics who are Republicans and who can be described as followers of former and perhaps future President Donald Trump," the diplomat said.

"This is not to say that their influence is overwhelming, but because the Republicans have a very small majority in the House of Representatives, they have a disproportionate opportunity to influence policy with around 8-10 members. And, unfortunately, the issue of Ukraine has been made one of those relatively sharp political battles," Luik added.

He said the majority of Republicans have no doubts about supporting Ukraine. 

"But yes, there is this influential minority that has emerged, which to some extent still takes its lead from Donald Trump, who has always been quite ambivalent about supporting Ukraine and at times very critical. And what are the arguments of these opponents? The basic argument is that, firstly, the money is needed by the U.S. itself, first and foremost to improve its own security, for example, to build the famous border wall, which both conservatives and Democrats, including President Joe Biden, have now promised to do," he said.

At the same time, Israel has support from both parties.

"But perhaps a more intellectually complex and forward-looking argument is that Russia is not seen as a military threat to the U.S. It's understood, for example, that there is a military threat to Estonia and allies right on [NATO's] eastern border, but in the case of the U.S. it's said that the existential threat to us is China. China already has more warships than the U.S., and in many areas of modern technology that can also be used in weaponry, the Chinese are far ahead. And now the conservatives are saying that we have to prepare for a major conflict with China, a hi-tech conflict, a very expensive conflict, and this Russian stuff is fading," said Luik.

While this group is not big, it gets considerable coverage from media outlets such as Fox News.

"The problem here is that there is a presidential election coming up and surely these issues are going to become even more acute and the controversy even greater," the diplomat said.

"So it's getting these big allocations of money from the U.S. Congress that's the problem. Right now, they have not even been able to extend the budget in Congress, the next deadline is the second half of November. But, of course, Ukraine and other issues like that are also pretty much on the agenda," he explained.

Luik said the U.S. government can still send aid to Ukraine, but at some point, these funds will run out. Then new approval will be needed.

Speaking about Biden's plan to put Ukrainian and Israeli aid in a single package, Luik said the USA-Mexico border wall will also be included.

"So it would be a so-called "palatable package" for a very wide range of political forces, but a very large number of members, including those who are actually supportive of Ukraine, are opposed to it, especially the mainstream Republicans who blame President Biden, saying that more work should be done to explain why the U.S. policy on Ukraine is important, what objectives are being pursued. And these Republicans say that it will then be much easier to get those votes together. Here, of course, we have to bear in mind that this is all linked to the presidential and congressional election campaigns. So we are entering a very difficult situation politically," Luik said.

Commenting on the idea that the U.S., which is preparing for a confrontation with China, could be interested in weakening Russia as Beijing's strongest ally, Luik said that the Americans could see things differently.

"From our point of view, this makes perfect sense. But perhaps these same Republicans really underestimate Russia, and for them, exactly which camp Russia falls into is not so important – China is the focus and the problem. Of course, there is also a very deep debate in expert circles about the lessons China has learned by looking at the conflict in Ukraine. Here, of course, the way in which these lessons are interpreted depends again on what one thinks – how successful or unsuccessful the West has been," said Luik.

"On one hand, Ukraine has been given a lot of arms and the West has been very united in economic sanctions, but on the other hand, Taiwan, for example, if something were to happen there, it is not possible to defend it by giving it any arms – the moment the island is surrounded, there is no one left to arm. So in that sense, it would still mean a direct military conflict," the ambassador said.

"China's links with the international economic world are also huge – on the one hand, cutting off these ties will hurt China, but on the other hand it will also hurt China's biggest trading partners, such as the U.S. So China's structural problem, in terms of military deterrence, in terms of preparing for conflict, is in some respects more complex than the Russian issue," Luik told the show.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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