President Zelensky, With Trump II Looming as at Least a Possibility, Plans To Court Republicans

Plus, Ukraine worries support in Congress for multi-billion dollar military aid is eroding.

AP/Carolyn Kaster, file
President Zelensky addresses Congress on December 21, 2022. AP/Carolyn Kaster, file

President Zelensky, worried that President Putin is prolonging the war in a wager that President Trump will win next year’s election, plans when he visits Washington on Thursday to court Republicans.

“When Zelensky is in Washington, the Ukrainians are going to work the Republican side of the aisle – and that is good, long overdue,” an American political strategist, Brian Mefford, tells The New York Sun. Before moving to Kyiv in 1999, Mr. Mefford worked for Republican politicians in America.

Short term, Ukrainians worry that support for multibillion-dollar defense spending for Ukraine is eroding in Congress. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a longtime foe of military aid to Ukraine, has succeeded in requiring separate House budget votes, one for Ukraine aid and another one for overall defense budget. The last time there was a specific House vote on military aid to Ukraine, 57 Republicans voted no.

“That number has only increased,” Mr. Mefford, who runs the Wooden Horse Strategies analytical firm, says. He reckons that at the moment “about 100” members of the House are opposed and “maybe 50 more are undecided.” So with 150 Republicans against, he sees a “danger” of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “the Democratic woke squad saying ‘spend the money on the inner cities.’”

If Ms. Ocasio-Cortez brings along 30 Democrats, “you are within striking distance of derailing military aid for Ukraine next year.”

Long term, Ukrainian officials believe Mr. Putin will keep the war going for one more year, gambling that Mr. Trump will return to the White House in January 2025. To help Mr. Trump, Mr. Putin is working with the Saudis to push oil prices above $100 a barrel. A resurgence of high gasoline prices would hurt Mr. Biden.

Mr. Putin also is expected to reactivate the Internet Research Agency, the social-media troll farm that worked against Secretary Clinton in 2016. The St. Petersburg-based group was disbanded in July. Its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed in August, apparently on Mr. Putin’s orders.

Last week, Mr. Putin expressed sympathy for Mr. Trump. “As for the prosecution of Trump … it shows the rottenness of the American political system, which cannot pretend to teach others democracy,” Mr. Putin told an economic forum at Vladivostok, prompting the audience to burst into applause. “Though they accused him of special ties to Russia, it was complete nonsense, total bulls—, and he more than anything imposed sanctions on Russia.”

Mr. Zelensky responded by telling an Economist reporter at Kyiv that Mr. Trump would “never” support Mr. Putin: “That isn’t what strong Americans do.”  On the ground in Washington this week, Mr. Zelensky plans to court Republicans — of all stripes.

Mr. Trump shows no signs of breaking the “bromance” with Mr. Putin that he displayed as president. Asked about Mr. Putin’s favorable comments, Mr. Trump said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press: “There was nobody tougher than me with Russia. And yet I got along with Putin. Let me tell you, I got along with him really well.”

If the 45th president returns to the White House, Mr. Trump said: “I will get that war stopped very, very quickly.” He explained: “I would get him [Putin] into a room. I’d get Zelensky into a room. Then I’d bring them together. And I’d have a deal worked out.”

Mr. Putin’s praise of Mr. Trump illuminates a split in the Republican Party. The Russian president “has now officially endorsed the Putin-wing of the Republican Party,” a former Wyoming congresswoman, Liz Cheney, tweeted. “Putin Republicans & their enablers will end up on the ash heap of history. Patriotic Americans in both parties who believe in the values of liberal democracy will make sure of it.”

Mr. Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, tweeted: “America’s founding principles will always stand the test of time. Putin should be more concerned about how quickly his military went from being the second most powerful in the world to the second most powerful in Ukraine.”

Yesterday in a speech at Washington, Mr. Pence attacked the “isolationism” of Mr. Trump and other Republican presidential primary rivals who want to see cuts in military and economic aid to Ukraine.

“Consider what would happen if the Republican appeasers are successful in pulling support for Ukraine,” Mr. Pence told the conservative Hudson Institute. “What message would it send to China, except a giant, flashing green light for the Chinese invasion of Taiwan?”

“Get it straight. Trump is under indictment because of his conduct,” the former governor of New Jersey, Christopher Christie, posted to X. “And now his best buddy is coming to his defense. If you are on the same side as Putin, you might want to rethink your position.”

Despite these voices of prominent Republicans, many people at Kyiv believe that Ukraine’s prospects would not be good under a Trump II presidency. “It is no secret that Trump does not like Ukraine, he thinks: ‘that is the country, those are the guys who almost got me impeached,’” Mr. Mefford says, articulating widespread fears in Kyiv. “If Trump wins, I don’t see a lot of good scenarios for Ukraine.”

The New York Sun

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