Your humble blogger had intended to write a longer post about the gradually emerging contours of the Ukraine endgame tomorrow. But the dramatic outcome of Republican dissidents successfully standing firm on the issue of not authorizing any funding Ukraine in the shutdown game of chicken is a huge blow for the Ukraines’s prospects for future significant US support. And Ukraine suffered another blow with anti-Ukraine-support candidate Robert Fico winning the election in Slovakia on Sunday.
These are such important developments that we’ll give a short discussion today, with a fuller treatment in the next day or two. But several points now.
One is the importance of anchoring. The Republicans having zeroed out support for Ukraine through November 17 (the time frame of the continuing resolution just passed) sets the precedent for “just saying no” to the Ukraine money burn pit. Even though polls have shown falling support among voters for continuing Ukraine funding, the sentiments of the great unwashed seldom matter. What might have changed the dynamic?
First, as Alex Christaforu was early to call, was the meager $700 handouts to Maui fire victims compared to the $113 billion and (until just now) counting for Ukraine. Assuming an average population of 30 million from February 2022 till now, that’s nearly $3,800 per capita. And a dollar goes a lot further in Ukraine than Hawaii
Second was the factoid, that even Snopes could not deny, that if a shutdown had taken place, Ukraine government salaries would continue to be paid while many Federal employees would face furloughs. This laconic explanation didn’t make the bare facts any prettier:
If the U.S. government shuts down, American civil servants will, indeed, suffer a pause in paychecks that will have been caused by a lack of action in the present congressional session. The fact that Ukrainian workers will get paid during this time period is thanks, however, to congressional action in previous sessions of Congress.
Third are the official efforts to let the air out of Project Ukraine balloon. The wee problem has been that the propaganda about how well Ukraine has been doing and the great exaggeration of the odds for victory greatly complicated managing expectations to a more realistic level, particularly given how much we and our allies have bet on it. One top off that, we have splits among the elites,, with some still believing that victory is still possible (as if we are bleeding Russia when the reverse is happening), others who are realists knowing defeat is inevitable and looking for a way to pretty that up, and others simply regarding Ukraine as a diversion of resources from Project China, and thus necessary to cut back irrespective of possible embarrassment and collateral damage.
But the success until recently of greatly overhyping Ukraine, in a social media environment that is well disposed to create reputational pump and dumps means that once Ukraine and Zelensky were no longer sacred, the correction could be swift. The massive Congressional diss is very likely to create a feedback loop where more previously withheld or watered-down negative information information about the war will come forward.
A few hot takes:
Buckle up for the Ukraine propaganda to go into overdrive now that their US funding stops.
🚨🚨🚨Red October🚨🚨🚨 pic.twitter.com/Rd8CEvCnsJ
— mattkickass (@mattkickass) October 1, 2023
Mind you, there will be efforts to get Ukraine back on the drip feed. Matt Gaetz is threatening a vote on McCarthy continuing as Speaker; I wonder if that is intended to check reviving Ukraine spending:
JUST IN: McCarthy Reportedly Lied Again – Cut a Side Deal for Ukraine Funding with McConnell and Biden
— SpeedySMM (@speedysmm) October 1, 2023
For instance, the US is clearly in need of someone to scapegoat and not happy with Zelensky, so it would seem a twofer to push him out. But that is tricky given how recently we’ve depicted him as the second coming of Churchill and how Zelensky has kneecapped any conceivable replacements. So the US needs time to execute its presumed preferred plan of cornering Zelensky to reverse himself and hold elections in 2024 (which he seems pretty sure to lose) and for us to find and pump up a tractable candidate. The sudden prospect of a funding drought both accelerates the timetable and reduces our leverage.
The second is the impact that the US hitting the money brakes, even if allegedly on a transitory basis, will have on EU/NATO allies. The US has been far and away Ukraine’s biggest backer. Even supplying a hodge podge and dwindling amount of often-dated weapons still kept up the appearance the West had Ukraine’s back. This chart is dated but it gives an idea of the relative importance of the US cash spigot. From the BBC:
Notice how big the “financial” part is. We’ll elaborate on that in our next post.
Now let us look briefly at the Robert Fico win in Slovakia. He was first in a fragmented party system, but given that had a solid margin. From Aljazeera in Slovakia’s populist party opposed to Ukraine aid wins vote:
The populist party of former Prime Minister Robert Fico that wants to stop military aid to Ukraine and is critical of the European Union and NATO has won Slovakia’s election, results showed on Sunday.
SMER-SSD party scored 23.3 percent, beating the centrist Progressive Slovakia (PS) that garnered 17 percent of the votes, the Slovak Statistics Office said early on Sunday after completing the count of 99.98 percent of the votes from some 6,000 polling stations….
Analysts predict a Fico government could radically change Slovakia’s foreign policy to resemble that of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, straining a fragile unity in the EU and NATO on opposing Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.
While Fico may struggle to form a stable coalition, his victory will raise alarm bells in Washington and Brussels because it could bring another anti-Ukraine voice into the EU alongside Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orbán.
Fico has opposed sanctions against Russia and also claimed that Nato-led support for Ukraine undermines national sovereignty…
Slovak analyst Milan Nič, of the German Council on Foreign Relations, said: “The task for the west now is not to lose Slovakia and engage constructively with Fico, but I think that Moscow is celebrating what will be seen as cracks in Europe’s east and Hungary no longer being alone.”..
Fico now needs to find enough allies among Slovakia’s fragmented political parties to avoid another hung parliament. Since May the country has had a technocratic government, appointed by President Zuzana Čaputová after the previous coalition imploded.
A potential kingmaker in forming a new government is the Hlas party of another former prime minister, Peter Pellegrini, which came third with 14.7 per cent of the votes. Pellegrini replaced Fico in office before he fell out with his former mentor and left Smer to form Hlas.
“There seems to be a path for Fico to have a working coalition” if he joined forces with a smaller ultranationalist party and mended his relationship with Pellegrini, Nič said. The three parties together would have 79 of 150 seats in parliament…
Pavol Demeš, a former Slovak foreign minister, said: “Fico will not be as strong as Orbán, but the EU has already been struggling to keep unity on Ukraine and I’m sure international policymakers will be worried about how far Fico can go in terms of fulfilling all the rhetoric from his campaign.”…
On Sunday Fico said his stance was to continue helping Ukraine “in a humanitarian way” and eventually take part in its postwar reconstruction, but not to provide more military aid for now.
It is not yet clear if Fico can form a government. But his coming in first when Slovakia has historically been an ally of Ukraine is another proof that more and more citizens and as a result, their elected officials, are in fact not willing to do whatever it takes to support Ukraine when the costs keep mounting and there is no end in sight. And if Fico can form a government, Orban will no longer be isolated in questioning reflexively Russia-hostile stances. Even though Fico’s participation in EU and NATO decisions won’t change outcomes, it will force groupthinkers to defend their positions, which will be revealing.
And more immediately, what do Europe-savvy readers think these developments portend for the upcoming elections in Poland?