It was a hero’s welcome in the US Congress with minutes of applause. It has now been almost a year since Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj was celebrated in Washington. At the time, it was his first trip abroad since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression. Washington as a travel destination was obvious: the USA is the most important supporter of his country. But a lot has happened since Zelensky’s last visit. He has now traveled to many other capitals and is now in Washington for the third time in a year.

But this journey is different than the previous ones. Zelenskyj does not come as a hero, but as someone who has to ask the USA for money. Nothing less than the future of his war-torn country depends on whether he succeeds.

Further aid to Ukraine is blocked by Congress

A year ago, Congress approved billions more in aid to Ukraine than US President Joe Biden had requested. Since the end of February 2022, well over 40 billion US dollars in military aid alone have flowed into the defense campaign. Now there is no more money at all for the time being. Biden’s Democrats have now lost the majority in one of the two chambers of parliament, the House of Representatives, to the Republicans.

In recent months, Biden has again requested billions to support Ukraine. But the Republicans are pushing him ahead with demands for more funding to protect the US southern border. Without agreement between both parties, there is no money. The White House has calculated that the funds approved so far will run out by the end of the year. It is primarily the Republicans who are increasingly doubting the aid to Ukraine – or even rejecting it completely. According to a recent poll, almost half of Republican voters believe the United States is sending too much support to Ukraine. After the war began, however, half of the Republicans surveyed answered the opposite: The USA is not doing enough.

Republicans as a party of isolationism

One point here is certainly the fatigue factor and the question raised in the middle of the election campaign as to how long the billions in aid should continue. Either help for Ukraine or better border protection: For many Republicans there only seems to be an either/or. The Republican Party has changed – and not just since Zelensky’s visit a year ago. It is a conservative isolationism that is taking hold. It has already set a precedent under former President Donald Trump and is the antithesis to the interventionist foreign policy of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. The Trump Party, which the Republicans have become, advocates a withdrawal from the world – in the style of Trump’s slogan “America first”.

For Zelensky it’s about everything

The mood has also changed in Ukraine. Unlike a year ago, pessimism is spreading in Kiev. The summer offensive brought no success. Instead, Zelensky ordered greater expansion of the defensive lines. In the east of the country, according to statements from the Ukrainian military leadership, Russian troops launched attacks on large parts of the front. Zelensky’s declared war goal of recapturing all areas within the 1991 borders has become a long way off.

It’s not just military support that depends on the US Congress. The package of almost 57 billion euros that Biden has requested also includes direct budget aid for Kiev amounting to almost eleven billion euros. More than three billion of this was actually supposed to flow this year and could only be partially replaced elsewhere. There is a gap of a good 38 billion euros in the Ukrainian budget for 2024, which is to be filled primarily with money from abroad.

Therefore, the alarm is already being raised for January if there is a further lack of money from the USA. “Without the US’s help in January, some difficulties are already arising in payments in the social sector,” said the head of the budget committee in parliament, Roxolana Pidlassa, to the Ukrainian “Forbes Magazine”. Specifically, this would primarily include pension payments for over ten million people and aid for almost five million internally displaced people. Economists warn that Kiev could then be forced to start printing money in the first quarter. The result: inflation and a further increase in dissatisfaction with Zelensky.

Failure would also be fatal for Biden

But there is also a lot at stake for the US President. This is clear from the drastic appeals that Biden and his team have been making for weeks calling on Congress to act. Ukraine will be “brought to its knees on the battlefield” if the flow of weapons and equipment from the United States is interrupted, the director of the National Budget Office wrote to leadership in both chambers of Congress. Even if international partners increased their aid, they would not be able to offset US aid.

Biden has promised to support Ukraine for as long as necessary. Allies and partners are taking their cue from the USA: Whether the USA continues or not is of great importance for decisions in Berlin, Brussels or London. Biden himself warned that Putin’s “appetite for power and control” was not limited to Ukraine. “If we allow Putin to erase Ukraine’s independence, aggressors around the world will be emboldened to try to do the same.”

But domestically, Biden cannot afford to fail in releasing new aid. During the election campaign, it would be a sign of absolute weakness if he were unable to assert himself on this matter, which is so important to him. So it’s not just about the reliability of the USA, but also about Biden’s credibility, his political success, his legacy. No wonder, then, that Biden invited Zelenskyj to Washington again shortly before the end of the year. Probably no one else could convince Biden’s doubters better than the Ukrainian president himself.