What Happens if the U.S. Stops Aiding Ukraine?

Photo: Contributor/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
September 27, 2023

As a small but mighty group of House Republicans continues to push us toward a government shutdown, I decided to conduct a bit of a thought experiment. Marjorie Taylor-Greene and members of the Freedom Caucus are adamant that the U.S. stop sending a “blank check” to Ukraine. Others, like Matt Gaetz, have been clear for months that they want zero money going to Ukraine. Back in February, Gaetz introduced a “Ukraine Fatigue Resolution,” which had ten co-sponsors but went nowhere. This summer, though, his amendment stating that “no federal funds may be made available to provide security assistance to Ukraine” got 70 votes in the House. The measure was easily outvoted, yes, but 70 members of Congress is not nothing. 

And so, I thought, what would happen if the U.S. decided to turn off the Ukraine aid spigot? Would Ukraine collapse? Would Vladimir Putin take it as an opportunity to probe NATO? 

I called some people in the D.C. foreign establishment to ask what they thought. Hilariously, this proved to be a surprisingly difficult question. All of them, to a person, wanted to dive head-first into the weeds. Were we just talking about this most recent $24 billion supplemental or all aid in the future? The presidential draw-down authority or supplementals? Which part of the Pentagon budget were we talking about? Was I assuming that this is a Republican House with a Biden White House, or a Republican White House with… what kind of Congress exactly?

The Russians, by the way, had absolutely no trouble gaming this out when I called a few folks, just out of curiosity. (To be fair, “detail-oriented” is not generally something ascribed to Russian culture.) When I rang Andranik Migranyan, a former classmate of Sergei Lavrov and a regular, flame-throwing presence on state TV, he was unequivocal. “It’ll be a few days and Ukraine will go to hell—and that’ll be the right outcome,” he said, using a far more colorful and untranslatable Russian expression involving fornication and someone’s mother. “Ukraine will stop existing as a government, and that’s for the benefit of Ukrainian people. Novorossiya [the Donbas] and Kievan Rus [central Ukraine] will become part of Russia, and we don’t need Galicia [western Ukraine]. It’s a cancerous tumor that corroded the rest of Ukraine and then the entire Soviet Union. We can throw the scraps that are left to Hungary, Poland, Romania, whoever wants to eat them.”