What will happen to Ukraine's weapons supply if Republicans control US Congress and stop the 'blank cheque' to Kyiv?

What will happen to Ukraine's weapons supply if Republicans control US Congress and stop the 'blank cheque' to Kyiv?

Updated: 2 months, 26 days, 2 hours, 26 minutes, 8 seconds ago

Under President Joe Biden, the United States has been the biggest contributor of weapons to Ukraine so far, sending around $US18.5 billion ($29 billion) in military aid to the battlefield. 

The US has provided crucial weaponry that has allowed Kyiv to push back, and fend off recent Russian attacks in the south and east of the country.

Experts say the support has had "a massive impact on the war".

But with Republicans poised to win one — if not both — houses of Congress in the midterm elections, there may be consequences for Ukraine.

There have been growing criticisms from GOP senators and candidates over the Biden administration's flow of funding, with some warning they will be turning off the tap.

At a rally last week, Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene proclaimed that "not another penny will go to Ukraine".

While House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who is in line to become speaker if Republicans win the House, said Americans should not "write a blank cheque" for Ukraine.

"I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they're not going to write a blank cheque to Ukraine," Mr McCarthy told Punchbowl News.

"They just won't do it … It's not a free blank cheque."

Mr Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he expects aid to Ukraine will continue even if the House flips.

"And by the way, we've not given Ukraine a blank cheque," he said. 

"There's a lot of things Ukraine wants that we didn't do." 

However, the president could face a slog getting military aid packages for Ukraine approved and can expect more oversight into where exactly money and weapons are going. 

What has the US provided?

Since Russia's full-scale invasion, Congress has approved around $US60 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

Charles Miller, a senior lecturer at the ANU School of Politics and International Relations, said if the US were to pull the plug on funding, Ukraine will be "in a lot of trouble".

"Although they fought very bravely and very effectively, there's no question that they couldn't have done what they've done without American financial and military assistance," Dr Miller told the ABC. 

"So, the consequences for Ukraine would be pretty catastrophic if it just dried up."

The arms packages the US has given to Ukraine have tended to vary depending on the situation on the ground, Tom Corben, a research fellow in the foreign policy defence program at the United States Studies Centre, said.

Early on, it was defence-oriented systems like the Stinger and Javelin missiles. 

"They helped them weather the initial rush of the assault," Mr Corben said.

"Now the tide has more or less turned, and the Ukrainians are on the offensive, you've seen the Biden administration really scale up systems that are more geared towards that counter-offensive mission."

Notably, the high-tech, long-range High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) have been crucial in helping Ukraine fend off recent Russian attacks in the east and south of the country.

HIMARS — which have a range of around 80 kilometres — have allowed Ukraine to "counter Russia's superiority and long-range artillery, and to damage Russian logistics", Dr Miller said.

"This has really had a massive impact on the war."

More HIMARS are expected to soon reach the battlefield under a $US275 million military aid package the US announced last week.

Dr Miller said there has also been talk of the US providing Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles. 

The US-produced surface-to-surface missiles have a range of around 300km.

"They are similar to HIMARS but more effective and even longer range," Dr Miller said.

"It will be a major boost for Ukraine."

The US has also recently shifted to provide more air defences as Russia has been deploying Iranian drones and reportedly looking at buying Iranian ballistic missiles, Mr Corben said.

This includes the VAMPIRE counter-unmanned aerial systems, which are more suited to taking out cheap drones or missiles than expensive aircraft.

Major weapons and supplies the US has provided, according to a State Department November 4 inventory list:

38 HIMARS and ammunition – much of Ukraine's military success has been attributed to these systems alone, given their precision in striking high-value Russian targetsEight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) and munitions — an advanced air defence system with newer capabilities which was rolled out in recent months to help Ukraine deal with Russia's UAV and missile barrage142 155mm Howitzers and up to 903,000 155mm artillery rounds — the cannons can be used to fire at relatively high trajectories and, like HIMARS, allow for more surgical and efficient strikes against targets Around 1,400 Stingers and 8,500 Javelins, plus more than 38,000 other anti-armour systems — nearly all have been taken from US stockpiles, leaving Congress and industry suppliers scrambling to revive dormant production linesMore than 700 Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems — a type of drone that carries weapons under its wingsAround 1,800 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems — loitering munitions that were purpose-designed and built for use by the Ukrainian military

The US has also provided smaller arms, tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition and equipment to bolster Ukrainian command and control capabilities. How much could the GOP change the agenda?

Last month, Mr Biden said he was "worried" about the impact on Ukraine aid if Republicans win.

But despite pockets of opposition within the Republican party, support for Ukraine aid packages passed this year have been bipartisan. 

"The American people have made clear … that they expect Republicans to be prepared to work with me as well in the area of foreign policy," Mr Biden told a press conference as midterm results were coming in on Wednesday. 

"I hope we will continue this bipartisan approach of confronting Russia's aggression in Ukraine."

Mr Corben said comments from leading Republicans about not writing "blank cheques" has a lot to do with how the Pentagon has been keeping track of the weapons it has sent to Ukraine.  

Congress has called for greater oversight over weapons smuggling. 

They want assurances that the billions in weapons that are pouring into Ukraine are making it to the battlefield and not the black market. 

Nancy Schneider, a US politics expert and the editor-in-chief of Australian Outlook for the Australian Institute of International Affairs, said the Republican rhetoric on Ukraine aid is unsurprising. 

It is consistent with the broader narrative the party consistently takes about being accountable to the taxpayer and being able to have government oversight.

Particularly from those aligned with former US president Donald Trump's "America First" approach.

"The idea of cutting funding to Ukraine comes from this idea of small government not writing blank cheque," Ms Schneider told the ABC. 

"They want to make sure that they know exactly where every dollar is going and where every weapon is going."

She added that "pulling the plug is not going to happen in any way, shape, or form in any near future", and any changes to aid are unlikely to have an impact on the war any time soon. 

"What's already in motion is very hard to stop," she said.

"What we're looking at is coming next year, in the next six months to two years or five years, rather than next week."

While analysts agree that it is highly unlikely funding will dry up, the GOP is likely to take a different approach.

Mr Corben said it will depend on the situation on the battlefield with the risk of support waning if the war falls into a holding pattern over the European winter.

"Support for Ukraine from both the public or Congress has — from my point of view — been highest when Ukraine has been making verifiable gains on the ground," he said. 

"That absence of verifiable gains could contribute to a lack of support and not help Ukraine's cause with Congress."

He expects Mr Biden to push through additional funding in the "lame duck period" between the midterms and when the new Congress takes effect next year. 

But a lot can happen in the meantime that could sway the Republicans' support for funding moving forward. 

"I think we also have to give a few months to see just how important this issue actually is to Republican lawmakers," he said. 

"There's every chance that other things may well come up between now and early next year that will take the spotlight away from prosecuting the war in Ukraine, particularly if it's not in the news as much because it's in a holding pattern."

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