Will Navalny’s Death Influence the Approval of US Aid for Ukraine?

U.S. President Joe Biden has called on Congress to pass a $60 billion aid package to Ukraine, which is crucial to its defense against the Russian invasion. Republicans in the House of Representatives have been holding up the aid for four months, primarily for weapons and military support, while pressing Democrats and the White House for immigration reforms and more funding for the U.S. border with Mexico.

Russian authorities said Navalny died after feeling ill and losing consciousness at a strict-regime prison north of the Arctic Circle. His death underscored the threat that President Vladimir Putin and his government pose to Ukraine and others, where Russia’s full-scale invasion hits the two-year mark on February 24.

Biden emphasized the need to provide funding so Ukraine can continue defending itself against Putin’s onslaughts and war crimes. However, U.S. analysts and advocates of aid to Ukraine say Navalny’s death is unlikely to significantly affect the fate of the aid package, which was passed by the Senate on February 8 but faces an uncertain future in the House.

The death of  Navalny is unlikely to influence the House’s vote on a $95 billion bill providing financial assistance to Ukraine. The House broke for a two-week recess on February 16, without taking up the latest version of the bill, which includes funding for Israel, Taiwan, and humanitarian assistance in Gaza and the West Bank. Any aid legislation could not pass until the beginning of March at the earliest.

House Speaker Mike Johnson blamed Putin for Navalny’s death and said the United States and its partners must use all means available to cut off Putin’s ability to fund his unprovoked war in Ukraine. However, he suggested that the lower chamber would take its time with any aid legislation, leaving it unclear when he might bring the current bill to a vote.

The US has been the largest supplier of military aid to Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, allocating more than $44 billion for weapons and equipment. The lack of additional military support and uncertainty over its future are reducing Ukraine’s capacity to defend itself, forcing Ukrainian troops to conserve ammunition.

Ukraine announced its withdrawal from Avdiyivka, marking Russia’s first major victory since May 2023. Andrij Dobriansky, director of communications for the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, believes that neither Navalny’s death nor the fall of Avdiyivka will prompt Republicans holding the bill in the House to move on the matter. Since August, the Biden administration has been unable to secure new aid for Ukraine due to deep divisions between Democrats and Republicans and rifts within the Republican Party.

In October, Biden proposed a $118 billion spending bill that included Ukraine aid and funding for U.S. border and immigration reform. However, on February 6, Republicans in the Senate killed that bill amid pressure from former President Donald Trump. The $95 billion package, which excludes border and immigration, is under significant pressure from the Republican Party’s right wing, which may attempt to overthrow Johnson.

The US and its partners must use all available means to cut off Putin’s ability to fund his unprovoked war in Ukraine and aggression against the Baltic states as Congress debates the best path forward to support Ukraine. US Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst suggests that Johnson is planning to write his own aid and immigration bill, possibly substituting some aid with loans.

Trump has previously supported loans to Ukraine. Replacing aid with loans might be a cosmetic change in the long run, as Russia’s invasion has devastated Ukraine’s economy, making it difficult for Kyiv to repay the loans. This could be a face-saving way for Republicans to approve new military support for Ukraine.

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