Reports of Ukraine’s Demise Are Exaggerated

HOUSE SPEAKER MIKE JOHNSON has the votes to pass a Ukraine bill. It may contain different features than the Senate-passed version, but Johnson is determined to bring the measure to the House floor after the Easter break, even if that infuriates hard-core conservatives, who are still threatening to oust him.

JOHNSON SAID OVER THE WEEKEND that the Ukraine bill will come up soon with some “innovations.” The GOP version may provide aid as a loan, not an outright grant. Repayment of the loan would not be required any time soon.

JOHNSON ALSO MENTIONED the REPO for Ukrainians Act, which would authorize the president to seize Russian sovereign assets frozen in the U.S. and give them to Ukraine to use against Russia. Johnson also said that, in an effort to “unleash American energy,” he wants “to have natural gas exports that will help un-fund Vladimir Putin’s war effort there.”

LEFT UNSAID IS WHETHER IMMIGRATION/BORDER reform would have to be part of any deal. That could stall a Ukraine bill into late spring. A bill only covering Ukraine, Israel and other allies could pass by late April, once the House and Senate iron out differences on issues like terms of a loan.

AID TO UKRAINE OBVIOUSLY WOULD BE CRUCIAL as the war hits a stalemate. But some analysts reject the consensus that Ukraine is in retreat; these analysts include Evelyn Farkas, Ph.D., executive director of the McCain Institute and former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. A surprisingly upbeat column by Farkas is in this morning’s The Hill.

RUSSIA CLEARLY HAS AN OVERWHELMING ADVANTAGE in manpower and weapons, but Farkas writes that none of the Ukrainian towns that surrendered this winter represent strategic losses. So far, the Ukrainians have held on to critical positions along the Dnieper River. Farkas reports that there’s an overwhelmingly determined mindset among Ukrainians in the direct crossfire. While commanders must now ration weaponry, morale remains strong enough to hold the line, she believes.

DESPITE THESE CHALLENGES, there have been positive developments. First there is the maritime domain: Over the last year, Ukraine has systematically destroyed a significant portion of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, forcing the remaining ships to retreat to Russian waters. Using long-range Storm Shadow missiles and their own sea drones, Ukraine has established a trade corridor hugging the NATO side of the Black Sea along Romania and Bulgaria, Farkas says.

AND TRADE HAS RETURNED TO pre-February 2022 levels for major commodities such as grain, iron ore and steel transiting to foreign markets which is likely to yield at least several billion in future annual revenue for Ukraine.

IN THE LAST SEVERAL WEEKS Ukraine has successfully destroyed or disabled about half a dozen Russian oil refineries (and struck more than a dozen over the last two years) which serve Russia’s domestic market, and the armed forces may also reduce Moscow’s export ability. Indeed, the Financial Times reports that Washington has warned Ukraine to desist, fearing a rise in global oil prices.

PUTIN STILL HAS DOMESTIC PROBLEMS, including his inability to protect against domestic terrorism. And in perhaps the biggest potential game changer, Ukraine appears to be getting closer to receiving frozen assets.

UKRAINE IS WINNING, Farkas asserts. The only factor that would change this, she says, would be if the U.S. and Europe stopped providing assistance. Farkas concludes: “Most Europeans have realized the danger is so great, they cannot stop supporting Ukraine. Most members of Congress understand the implications for Ukraine’s security as well. We should not let a minority in Congress drive U.S. policy towards reckless inaction.”

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