It’s no coincidence that the speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, the country’s defense minister and a top presidential adviser are visiting Capitol Hill this week.
As Congress remains without a clear path for additional Ukraine funding, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s top lieutenants are on a critical mission to preserve Ukraine’s key lifeline — help from the United States. That means making the case directly to Congress’ Ukraine skeptics.
Perhaps their most important meeting came on Tuesday afternoon when Speaker Mike Johnson — who previously voted against Ukraine aid — hosted Ruslan Stefanchuk, the speaker of Ukraine’s parliament.
“We have come a long way on our path to victory. But we cannot stop halfway,” Stefanchuk told Punchbowl News in an interview Tuesday night at the Ukrainian embassy. “Ukraine is fighting against the most appalling and terrible regime since the times of Hitler.”
Stefanchuk leads Ukraine’s parliamentary body, known as the Verkhovna Rada. The 48-year-old is a close ally of Zelensky and is next in line to the presidency. Stefanchuk is an experienced political hand who knew exactly what he was walking into with Johnson.
While Johnson has spoken recently about the need to defeat Vladimir Putin, he’s also one of the chief obstacles to passing more Ukraine aid.
Johnson is against the idea of a comprehensive foreign aid package, and he’s privately telling Democrats they must accept border-security legislation they oppose in order to get more Ukraine funding. Johnson also reflects that skepticism on Ukraine that defines much of his conference — that there isn’t enough transparency about U.S. aid to Ukraine, and there aren’t any clearly defined objectives.
Yet make no mistake: Ukraine’s leaders are aware of exactly what’s happening on Capitol Hill right now — and they know their audience.
“We understand that this war cannot last forever. And we have a clear vision and plan… to carry on with this fight,” Stefanchuk said. “Every bullet that will be shot by a Ukrainian soldier at a Russian occupier, a bullet for which the American taxpayers have paid, will be reported and accounted for.”
Based on their meeting, Stefanchuk said Johnson was “positive about getting aid to Ukraine before Christmas.” Stefanchuk told us Johnson “fully understands” the domestic political issues at play here, and emphasized he doesn’t want to interfere.
At the same time, Stefanchuk said he came prepared with very specific counter-arguments to various claims about the war, including whether Ukraine’s big counter-offensive has stalled out.
“The war in Ukraine is not a computer game where you can just speed up using the control buttons,” Stefanchuk told us. “The speed of advancement of the Ukrainian troops directly depends on the speed of the deliveries of weapons to Ukraine.”
In many ways, Stefanchuk echoed President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’ve highlighted the fact that most of the U.S. aid for Ukraine is spent at home rather than sent overseas. Stefanchuk repeatedly said it’s a “mutually beneficial” proposition for the United States.
To those concerned about the cost of sustaining Ukraine’s military, Stefanchuk said the cost of a Russian victory would be far greater — both in dollars and in American lives.
“We understand that the spending is high. But at the same time, if God forbid Russia wins, America would have to spend way more because Putin wouldn’t stop,” Stefanchuk said, referencing Article 5 of NATO.
— Andrew Desiderio