Last Friday, US President Joe Biden addressed the population, stating that two democracies, Ukraine and Israel, are currently facing existential threats. He said that although Hamas and Putin represent different threats, they share a common goal: the desire to eradicate their neighbouring democracies. Biden on Friday asked Congress to approve funding for Ukraine and Israel, saying it is an investment in the future of the US. In an interview on the Radio Znai Radio programme Topical Interview, Linas Kojala, Director of the East European Studies Centre (EESC), said that by asking for support, Biden is trying to avoid direct intervention in the war and show leadership, Aleksandras Znamerovskis states in tv3.lt
According to Linas Kojala, political analyst and Director of RESC, the time and place chosen for the speech is not a coincidence. According to L. Kojala, Biden wanted to reach out to people who do not follow US foreign policy issues.
“It is no coincidence that Biden‘s speech was so symbolic, delivered from the Oval Office, at the perfect time, so that it could be seen by people who might not follow international politics – so that they could hear the argument that US support is crucial for both Ukraine and Israel,” said Mr Kojala.
L. Kojala said Biden was also trying to emphasise that ending aid would require more sacrifices than continuing.
“If that aid stops, if the supply somehow stops, it could require even more sacrifices from the US perspective. Because it will not only be a question of economic, military and political support but also of direct intervention in the hostilities, which the Americans have not done so far and are trying to avoid”, Kojala said.
Biden sought Republican support
In his speech, President Biden also talked about Ukraine and Israel’s construction of the border with Mexico and support for the Indian region. According to Mr Kojala, this decision to discuss many issues simultaneously is not unnecessary, as it is aimed at pleasing Republicans, who might oppose support for Ukraine but will support Biden’s other proposals. Biden has asked for a whopping $105 billion for Ukraine. USD 105 billion security package, including USD 61 billion for the first time. The security package includes $61 billion in military aid to Ukraine and $14 billion in security assistance to the United States. USD 14 billion for Ukraine and USD 14 billion for Israel. “In President Biden’s speech, we also heard a new tactical element, which is also being talked about by some Republicans, especially those in the centrist tradition. It is the desire to bring together several different issues, which is what Biden asked Congress to do when he said that support was needed for Israel and Ukraine, for the construction of the border with Mexico, and support for the countries of the Indian region. In other words, Biden is not proposing to deal with each issue separately but perhaps to link a package of 100 billion to these four themes in the hope that, even though some Republicans are opposed to support for Ukraine, they will still vote in favour of such a package, because it includes funds for strengthening border security. It may not be the optimal solution, but Ukraine and Israel will be satisfied”, explained Mr Kojala.
According to Kojala, Biden is also taking a leadership role to demonstrate his political skills, which will be important in the upcoming elections. In addition, giving more support now would allow for less frequent discussion of support issues.
“I think it has something to do with the fact that Biden came back from Israel, demonstrating leadership by going to a country that terrorists attacked. He is connecting Israel with Ukraine. Remember that President Biden also went to Kyiv, despite not all the US security structures favouring such a move. This is perhaps also a kind of allusion to the forthcoming presidential elections. One of Biden’s biggest weaknesses is the perception of his ability to perform duties that require high tolerance for stress, high levels of preparedness, including physical preparedness to withstand intense travel, decision-making processes,” said Kojala.
Despite these circumstances, Kojala said the visit was less successful than the US President had expected.
“This is particularly due to the fact that the meetings with the representatives of the Arab countries did not take place: the leader of Jordan. The meeting could have had the greatest potential towards finding political solutions. It has not happened, and we have had to confine ourselves to lesser achievements – limited humanitarian access to Gaza via Egypt and meetings with Israeli leaders. That symbolism is no small thing, and that visit could have been even more successful, but the events surrounding the hospital bombing and the deaths of many civilians prevented that from happening. Political efforts will have to be even more intense in the future”, underlined Mr Kojala.
Changing attitudes towards Israel
L. Kojala also stressed that we can see a change in the US attitude towards Israel – the US now emphasises the democratic aspect of Israel. Any Israeli response must also be seen through the prism of democracy, and Israel cannot be guided solely by strategic objectives.
“In the past, there used to be all-out support for Israel – that has not changed. But there is a second element – every speech also mentions the need to address humanitarian issues, avoid civilian casualties, and express the expectation of Israel as a democratic state – that any response that Israel ultimately decides to adopt will also be considered from this perspective. Israel must demonstrate that it will not act only with the strategic aim of destroying terrorists.
The budget also includes USD 100 million for humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip. Of course, this does not change the strategic posture of the US. But apparently, the rhetoric we hear from European countries is also being heard in Israel,” said Mr Kojala.
However, the scale of support remains relatively modest. Even the share for Ukraine is less than 10% of the total US defence budget, while the share for Israel is much lower.
“Ukraine has received about $70 billion so far, and the annual US defence budget is about $880 billion, so it is not a double-digit percentage, but it is certainly in the US strategic interest. Of course, Russia has been stated as a threat all along, and in this case, Ukraine, without requiring direct US military involvement, achieves those objectives. Regarding Israel, we are talking about even more modest figures – the usual allocation was just USD 3 billion, and now the request is for USD 14 billion. Those sums are not the main focus. It is not for nothing that we hear Biden saying that if this escalates into something more than just financial support, then the cost to the US will only be higher”, said Mr Kojala.
Support for Ukraine to avoid future problems and direct conflict
“If we don’t stop Putin’s appetite for power and control in Ukraine, it won’t be limited to Ukraine,” is how Biden described support for Ukraine. According to Kojala, this statement is addressed to US citizens tired of the failure of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I think this message is consistent; we have heard it many times. It is also related to the thesis that we have heard from Mr Biden many times, that the US will not send troops to Ukraine and that there will not be long new wars, which US citizens are so unwilling to have after Afghanistan and Iraq. These wars have cost trillions of dollars and many American lives. So, Biden is saying that this is not the way forward – he is saying that we need to continue to support Ukraine so that it can continue to defend itself, and we need to continue to support Israel so that it can defend itself. Otherwise, if this is not done, if the support is cut off, it may seem to some Americans that money is being saved, but it will create problems that investment, billions of dollars, will not be enough to solve,” said Kojala.
The Baltic States were also mentioned in Biden’s speech. According to Kojala, this is an attempt to remind Americans that Putin’s ambitions can reach countries the US is committed to protecting.
“The Baltic countries were used here as an example – if what Russia is doing in Ukraine were to lead to the Kremlin’s success, the war would have the potential to expand. And Russia’s imperial ambitions would already extend to countries that the US is committed to defending at every possible level.
I think this message has the potential to be a good one because it is not self-evident to many Americans, for whom international politics is not a top priority”, Kojala stressed.