"Zelenskyy should realize Crimea is a long-term goal. First we must try to end the war." An interview with Congressman Jim Costa

Thursday, 29 February 2024 — , European Pravda
Jim Costa at a panel discussion in Kyiv, 24.02.2024. Photo: The Press Service of the Pinchuk Foundation.

Jim Costa is a "veteran" in the United States House of Representatives, where he has served since 2005. He has been re-elected to Congress 10 times in a row. He is also a member of the group of "moderate" or conservative Democrats who share many views with Republicans and often negotiate with them on contentious issues, including Ukraine.

Costa unequivocally supports the continuation and strengthening of funding for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. He has no doubts that the assistance package will soon be approved. While in Kyiv to attend the Yalta European Strategy (YES) meeting, the congressman told European Pravda when and how it might happen.

You probably won’t like everything he says. For example, he lacks confidence in Ukraine's ability to win the war. It is important to understand, though, what kind of thoughts sometimes prevail even among American friends of Ukraine.

"Whether or not Johnson is going to be able to hold on to his speakership is in question"

Ukrainian and American officials say they are confident that US assistance will be approved sooner or later. But when?

I believe that it will happen within the month of March.

We have to pass a budget. We have other pressing issues that we have to deal with. But I truly believe that it will happen in the next four weeks. (This conversation took place last weekend, so the congressman is referring to the first three weeks of March – EP.)

There is already a proposal in Congress to remove the macro-financial/economic assistance from the package and leave only military aid for Ukraine.

I don't think that reflects the majority of the votes in the House of Representatives. It certainly was not in the Senate.

I can't tell you what the final sum will be. But I know that those of us who support the supplemental package would like to vote on it as the Senate passed it. Because if we change it, it has to go back to the Senate. And then that further delays it.

And so my hope is that we are going to vote on the Senate package that came out 70 to 29 votes.

But to bring the Ukrainian package to a vote, not only House support is needed, but also the political will of Speaker Mike Johnson, which has not yet been the case.

Well, of course. But the speaker is being challenged, and every week, if not every day, whether or not he's going to be able to hold on to his speakership is in question.

He’s lost six procedural votes in the last seven weeks. The most pressing vote for the country is to avoid a government shutdown on March 1 and March 7. And if that happens, I think we could see possibly a new speakership vote coming before us.

The avoidance of government shutdown has to be the first priority.

As speaker, you can't be in charge with a two-vote margin majority and say "I was unable to avoid a government shutdown."

The Republicans, because of their internal problems and infighting, on any given day seem to portray that they can't govern, they won't govern, or they don't know how to govern. And that's the challenge that we face.

How does this affect the decision on Ukraine’s supplemental package?

Let me remind you of the background to what we have now.

We were supposed to have a budget on October 1. We were unable to do that. Speaker McCarthy ended up having to need the Democrats, all of us, to vote for the concurrent resolution. About half the Republicans voted for it. And then within several days he lost his job.

Speaker Johnson comes in after 25 days, so that’s 25 days of the majority party unable to agree upon a speaker. His primary achievement was to avoid a government shutdown until January, but it still took a majority of the Democrats, almost all of us, and about half the Republicans.

We came back in the middle of January, and once again, because we had not reached an agreement on a budget, he requested for the third time that we extend a concurrent resolution until March 1 and 7. Again, the Democrats provided the majority of the votes and the Republicans less than half.

Now, again, we could have a government shutdown.

Does this mean that you will not vote on funds for Ukraine until the overall budget is approved?

I don't believe that we can start dealing with the Ukrainian issue until we get this, as our first priority is to avoid a government shutdown.

But it may be that what we do is simply extend the budget deadline for another month. (Note: A few days after the interview, events began to unfold in exactly this way.) If we did that, there would be time in between to bring up the supplemental package [with funding for Ukraine].

"Lend-lease has a lot less awareness and support among Congress"

Recently, the pattern has been as follows: as soon as the Senate or the House gets close to passing the next version of the package, Donald Trump tweets that it's a "bulls**t bill". After that, Speaker Johnson announces that he will not put the bill to the vote. Is there a way of adopting it without the speaker's consent?

Yes, we can have a motion to discharge, a discharge petition, and it would not require the Speaker's approval.

If you have sufficient Republicans to vote for that discharge petition, it will come to the floor and we have to bring it up.

I think it’s quite possible.

There are other scenarios as well that have been discussed.  It's important to say that those of us who support and have voted for aid to Ukraine are going to try to do everything we possibly can to make that happen. And that includes the President of the United States.

Speaker Johnson finds himself in a very difficult place, and much of it has been of his own making. He’s boxed himself in this corner.

In 2022, we had high expectations of lend-lease in Ukraine. But it didn’t work – lend-lease was not activated. Last year, it expired. Is it worth Congress adopting this mechanism again?

Lend-lease is something that we might consider further down the road. But right now, we need to act on the $61 billion.

You know, the entire package is $95 billion – it’s not just the $61 billion for Ukraine. It's also support for Israel, humanitarian aid, not just for the Palestinians, but also for 120,000 Armenians who have been removed from their historical home in Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan.

It also involves funding for Taiwan. And it also includes efforts to significantly increase America's production for military defenses. Defense contracting companies are wondering what's going to be the policy, what are going to be the budget priorities, not only for the supplemental package, but for our National Defense Authorization Bill that we do every year.

If we pass that supplemental package, that will certainly send a signal beyond what you asked me about in terms of the National Defense Authorization Act that we have to pass as well.

What is the point of lend-lease if the US again relies on just the supplemental mechanism?

I don't think that lend-lease at this point in time is appropriate when we have a much more direct way in which we can solve this problem for Ukraine.

Lend-lease is a part of a larger discussion.

I must tell you that at this point in time, it's been a lot less of a consideration than when it was brought up last year.

Why?

Because there is political support for the package.

70 to 29 in the Senate. There are probably 300 votes in the House. There is less understanding politically of the need to have Lend-Lease.

This concept also has merit, it could be considered down the road, but it has a lot less awareness and support among Congress.

Yet in 2022, lend-lease was approved by a huge majority.

But it hasn’t been central to the discussion.

"The reality of Putin agreeing to leave Crimea would not probably happen initially"

Even if the supplemental is adopted, Ukraine does not have enough military advantage to overcome Russia, which has been preparing for war for decades. What could change the rules of the game and lead Ukraine to victory?

You’re asking me a question as if there was a consensus on what level of funding from the United States and Europe will result in a Ukraine victory.

I don't believe, notwithstanding all the conversations that have been had by Europe, by NATO and the G7, that there has been a determination.

Last summer, as the counteroffensive was developing, there was a lot of hope that this would be a major breakthrough, and that would result in Russia wanting to come to the table to reach some sort of an agreement to end hostilities.

There had been a lot of discussion about what form that agreement would take. President Zelenskyy has indicated what kind of terms he would look for before he would be willing to have a conversation with Putin.

Yes, Russia should be out of Ukraine, out of Crimea and Donbas.

Well... I think that President Zelenskyy realizes that that is a long-term goal for Ukraine.

The reality of Putin agreeing to leave Crimea, while we try to bring the war and the hostilities to an end, would not probably happen initially.

President Zelenskyy says quite the opposite.

I understand that. But... Just as Putin has had some ideas about what he thinks are Russia's terms for ending hostilities, certainly, President Zelenskyy and his government have their goals.

I don't pretend to speak for the President of Ukraine or the parliament. This is something that has to be discussed internally.

But we in the West, supporting Ukraine, have to do everything we can, I believe, to put Ukraine in the strongest possible position to negotiate an end of hostilities and some agreement on how you go forward.

So do you see a way to reach that?

Initially, in the short term, by passing this supplemental package, and additional support by Europe.

Thank you for the conversation. I have to tell you that without Crimea, it would mean that Ukraine has lost, and the West has lost. But it's an option.

I’m not going to pretend to negotiate for Ukraine. I think Crimea is a part of Ukraine.

I completely understand that.

All I’m saying is that you can look historically at other regional wars that have taken place. You can pick a number of them – what happened in Vietnam or what happened in Korea, where there still is not a peace agreement between North and South Korea. It's a truce.

How these things end, you can't predict, I can't predict. I’m not even going to try.

But all I know is that we've got to provide Ukraine with all the support we possibly can, both the United States and Europe, so that we put President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian government in the best possible position to negotiate some sort of an end to this war.

What the terms would be, I cannot tell you.

This is Russia’s war with the West, and Ukraine is part of the West.

Look what has happened here as a result of this! Ukraine is going through the process of becoming a member of the EU. There are discussions about NATO. This would have been unthinkable three years ago.

It would have been unthinkable that Sweden and Finland would be a part of NATO.

So a lot of things are unthinkable, but the geopolitics change, and then that creates possibilities.

I can't predict the future. All I can do is the best I can every day to make what I think is good legislation to have the kind of success we want to achieve. But I can’t predict what the outcomes are – I don’t have a crystal ball.

I can. Russia will lose, and Ukraine will win.

I'll shake to that. That's what I want to see happen!

 

Interview by Sergiy Sydorenko

Video by Volodymyr Oliinyk

European Pravda

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