GOP call for Ukraine peace talks echoes bungled progressive letter

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Progressive Democrats and the MAGA wing of the Republican party don’t often align on policy matters, but a letter from 19 GOP lawmakers this week underscored areas of agreement on one key issue: United States strategy on the war in Ukraine.

The letter sent to President Biden this week criticized “unlimited arms supplies in support of an endless war” in Ukraine and urged the Biden administration to “advocate for a negotiated peace between the two sides.”

The Republican signatories included Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), J.D. Vance (Ohio), Mike Lee (Utah) along with Reps. Lauren Boebert (Colo.) and Matt Gaetz (Fla.), among others.

“Unrestrained U.S. aid for Ukraine must come to an end, and we will adamantly oppose all future aid packages unless they are linked to a clear diplomatic strategy,” Paul tweeted.

In October, around 30 progressive lawmakers sent a similar letter to Biden expressing a desire to “avoid a prolonged conflict” and to “pair the military and economic support” for Ukraine with a “proactive diplomatic push.”

That letter was quickly retracted amid a backlash from other Democrats, including some fellow Progressives. The chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramilla Jayapal (D-Wash.), said it was sent without proper vetting and unintentionally conflated their views with skepticism among some Republicans toward Ukraine aid.

The withdrawn Progressive letter did not explicitly seek to make ongoing security assistance to Ukraine conditional on diplomacy, as the GOP letter did.

However, the two letters spotlight a common cause between opposite ends of the political spectrum, and a divide between mainstream and minority factions within both parties.

The Hill reached out to about a dozen signatories of the Progressive letter, none of which provided comment for this article.

Danielle Pletka, a senior fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said the political spectrum is a “circle,” particularly when it comes to foreign policy.

“The far left and the far right are far more similar to each other than the people in the center on the left and right,” she said, noting they share skepticism over U.S.-Israel relations and foreign conflicts.

The GOP letter also comes after leaked Pentagon documents have painted a darker picture of the war, including a U.S. assessment that the war will stretch beyond 2023 and neither side is likely to make significant gains anytime soon.

Pletka said a protracted war could lead to additional critics across the political aisles, but Biden could “easily shore up support” with more consistent messaging.

“The president hasn’t given a single major speech about Ukraine. He barely mentioned it in his State of the Union. He has not laid out a clear strategy,” she said, arguing the anti-war crowd is “building on an opening that the Biden administration itself has given them.”

Washington has provided billions of dollars in security aid to Kyiv since Russia invaded the country in February 2022, meeting little resistance in Congress. However, no major Ukraine package has come before the GOP-controlled House, which will test how widespread GOP skepticism has become.

Support for military assistance to Ukraine has slowly dwindled among the American public, dropping from about two-thirds of all Americans across several polls last year to 59 percent last month, according to an Ipsos/Axios poll.

About 42 percent of Republicans support continued U.S. military assistance, compared to 79 percent of Democrats, the poll found.

Since the letter was sent last year, progressive Democrats have been mostly silent on pushing for diplomacy with Russia and have continued to express support for Ukraine militarily.

But some far-right figures have stepped up their criticism.

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 White House contender, last month was forced to walk back a comment he made referring to the war in Ukraine as a “territorial dispute,” and instead said there was no “sufficient interest” for continued U.S. involvement.

After the trove of Pentagon documents circulated widely online this month, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who signed the letter to Biden this week, jumped on the revelations as a sign that the Biden administration was lying about the war and renewed her calls to end American backing.

But mainstream Republicans have largely rejected those calls, or at least ignored them, instead focusing their messaging around Ukraine on increasing U.S. oversight of the billions in arms being sent to Kyiv’s military.

“I oppose the letter sent by a small minority of GOP members opposed to supporting Ukraine,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in an email to The Hill.

“An independent Ukraine is important for our national security, and if Ukraine falls then the odds go up for an imminent future conflict with Russia in Europe. The Baltic’s would likely be next.”

Neither the GOP lawmakers or their progressive counterparts laid out a clear strategy around the key question of how to force Russia to end its war.

Kyiv and its western allies argue that peace talks right now, with Russia still occupying much of the country, would effectively lock in those gains and force Ukraine to cede swathes of its territory. And they say helping Ukraine force out Russia militarily — by making sure Kyiv is not outmatched by Moscow’s firepower — is the only way to change those dynamics before negotiations begin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed to retake all of the four eastern regions occupied by Russia and illegally annexed last year, which Putin is unlikely to give up.

Zelensky also wants to reclaim the Crimean Peninsula, a goal that the U.S. has neither backed or dismissed — maintaining what experts view as a strategic ambiguity to leave wiggle room for eventual peace talks. Putin annexed Crimea in 2014 and considers it Russian territory.

Melvyn Levitsky, a professor of international policy at the University of Michigan who had a 35-year career as a U.S. diplomat abroad, said lawmakers are “pushing against an open door on diplomacy.”

“That seems to be what the administration would like to have happen,” Levitsky said, but “what can outside parties do in a dispute like this, where one country invaded another?”

“You say there should be diplomacy to resolve the dispute,” he said, yet “you favor the side that’s invaded by saying, ‘We now have a negotiating agenda and they’re an equal party with the other.’”

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