Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks at National Defense University in Washington, D.C., on December 11, 2023.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks at National Defense University in Washington, D.C., on December 11, 2023. Ukrainian Presidency / Anadolu via Getty Images

Zelenskyy invokes Reagan in plea for aid, but will it sway a Trumpian GOP?

The Ukrainian leader also claims responsibility for drone strikes on Moscow.

Create your own Reaganesque moment by passing a $61-billion aid package for Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged U.S. lawmakers on Monday. 

“We need no less confidence now than President Reagan had then,” Zelenskyy said at National Defense University, referring to the 1987 speech in which the U.S. leader demanded that the Soviet Union dismantle the Berlin Wall. 

The U.S. supports Ukraine’s military through Congressionally approved supplemental appropriations bills. 

Funds in the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which pays for new weapons, ran out in mid-October. Funds in the Presidential Drawdown Authority, which pays for the replacement of old weapons sent to Ukraine, has around $1 billion left.  

The Biden administration has asked Congress to approve an additional $61.4 billion in aid to Ukraine. Republicans have said they want the request paired with new border security programs. 

Biden has said he is willing to consider some changes to border security, but Republicans have reportedly asked for more than what Democratic congressional representatives would support. 

With just a week left before lawmakers leave for a holiday break, it’s unclear whether they will act. Some lawmakers also doubt much will be done until Congress settles on a plan to fund the federal government in fiscal 2024, which began in October. The government is currently running on a temporary spending resolution that expires early next year.

“If there's anyone inspired by [the] unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s Putin,” said Zelenskyy. 

Zelenskyy’s speech framed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a battle to defend freedom and a continuation of the Cold War. 

“It's not just Moscow trying to split Europe again, it's Putin attacking that big shift that happened back in 1989,” Zelenskyy said, referring to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, an initial step in the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. 

Zelenskyy’s appeal to Reaganism may fall on deaf ears. About half of Republican voters believe that the U.S. is spending too much money on Ukraine, according to a recent Pew poll. Other polls show even more skepticism, with 61 percent of Republican voters opposing Ukraine aid. 

High-profile far-right lawmakers have long argued that money spent on Ukraine is wasted, mirroring isolationist views popularized by former president Donald Trump. More moderate conservative voices have noted that most of the Ukraine aid goes to the U.S. companies that make the weapons, either through purchases or subsidies to improve production.

Zelenskyy’s message may play best with Republicans lawmakers who are favorable to Ukraine, but for political reasons have drifted publically into the camp of Ukraine skeptics, according to Luke Coffey, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. 

They “know that it's in America's interest to [support Ukraine], but they're also acutely aware of how politics play out on Capitol Hill,” Coffey said. 

Zelenskyy’s speech also positioned Ukraine as a trustworthy, competent ally, highlighting Ukrainian successes against Russia’s Black Sea fleet and reforms of its state institutions. 

He also claimed responsibility for drone attacks on Moscow. 

“It is not a secret that Ukraine’s response to Russian barbarism can shake the ground in the heart of Moscow,” Zelenskyy said. Ukraine typically avoids claiming attacks inside Russia.