Billings Gazette: Supporting Ukraine crucial for democracy, Tester says

by Tom Lutey

With a multi-billion-dollar aid package on the table for Ukraine, and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Washington, D.C., firming up congressional support, U.S. Sen Jon tester said it was important for democracy that America continue to help the Eastern European nation fight off a Russian invasion.

Tester was speaking ahead of a Senate vote to keep the federal government funded through December. Tucked away in the measure is a $44.9 billion aid package for Ukraine. In recent days, Tester has worked on a defense bill including the latest installment of arms for the Eastern European country. The Montana Democrat is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

“This really is a conflict we’re supporting because these people are giving their lives to fight for democracy. They want to be like us. And if we’re not willing to support them, what are we willing to support in this world?” Tester said. “I went to Eastern Europe. I went to Lithuania and Poland, in particular. The folks in these countries don’t think that if Putin is successful in Ukraine that he’s going to stop. He’s going to try to reconstruct the old Soviet Union. And by the way, I tend to agree with them.”

“Let’s say that (Putin is) successful and he moves into Poland. Poland is a NATO country. You attack one, you attack all. That means U.S. troops will be there. So, I think it’s best to snuff this thing out right now, to the best of our ability. And I think the administration and Congress have done a pretty good job of that.”

The senator said he planned to attend Zelenskyy’s address to Congress, but was also eyeing the coming winter storm, saying that he might have to leave before the storm arrived in order to get home to Big Sandy before Christmas.

Senate leadership this week was emphasizing the importance of the year-end bill to keep the government running, as well as supporting Ukraine. There is a concern that support for Ukraine will be harder to come by as Republicans take control of the House in January. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the frontrunner to become House speaker in 2023, has said Congress shouldn’t be a blank check for Ukraine. Isolationists in the House, including Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale have opposed military aid to Ukraine, arguing that the U.S. border with Mexico take priority.

On Dec. 8, Rosendale and a small minority of lawmakers voted against the Senate-amended bill to fund the U.S. Department of Defense in 2023.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday morning about supporting Ukraine being in the interest of the United States, as well as the need to adequately fund the U.S. military in the face of China’s growing military power.

“The people of Ukraine have reminded the entire free world about the meaning of sovereignty and the price of freedom,” McConnell said in a livestreamed speech. “They fought back against the invaders with inspiring bravery. And let’s be clear, the reason that a big bipartisan majority of the American people, and big bipartisan majority of the members of congress support continuing to assist Ukraine is not primarily about inspiring speeches, or desire to engage in philanthropy.

“President Zelenskyy is an inspiring leader, but the most basic reasons for continuing to help Ukraine degrade and defeat Russian invaders are cold, hard, practical American interests,” McConnell said.

Though the National Defense Authorization Act didn’t receive a Montana vote of support in the House, both Tester and Republican Sen. Steve Daines voted to the fund the Department of Defense. The $858 billion spending bill included $800 million for Ukraine, with a multi-billion-dollar investment in defenses for Taiwan, as well. The bill also committed $6.9 billion to the European Deterrence Initiative.

Supporting Ukraine crucial for democracy, Tester says (