Former President Trump does not sound like a man ready to abandon Ukraine as some fear. This week, he instead called on Europe to match dollar-for-dollar the amount of aid the U.S. has sent to counter Russian aggression. “I say pay, and they’ll pay too,” he said. “You have to equal it.”
Those remarks come as Trump allies in Congress are balking at a proposal to send more military materiel to Kyiv in exchange for policy changes at the U.S. southern border, and at a time European leaders increasingly fear what a second Trump term might mean for the future of Ukraine and NATO.
“Ukraine is an interesting case,” Trump said Tuesday at a Las Vegas rally. “People always want to know my feeling.”
“Number one, we’re in for $200 billion plus, and the European nations are in for $20 billion, and it’s more important for them,” he continued. “And don’t you think they should equalize?”
“But the European nations, if you add them up, the economy is about the same size as the U.S., believe it or not. A lot of people are surprised,” Trump added after likening European aid to Ukraine to NATO allies meeting their defense spending obligations. “You add them all up, and they are in for about $20 billion, and we’re in for $200 billion because we’re stupid. All we have to do is say, ‘Pay!’”
Trump’s math may be off. The European Union committed to a $54 billion aid package to Ukraine Thursday, while the U.S. has already sent over $79 billion in humanitarian and military aid, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
Still, those numbers grate conservatives, particularly Trump allies who advocate for an “America First” approach to foreign policy. “Ukraine is not the 51st state of the United States,” Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene told CBS News last year in an explanation of her opposition to more aid. The former president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., summed up skepticism on the right when he called Ukrainian President Zelensky “an ungrateful international welfare queen.”
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley supports continuing to send substantial military aid to Ukraine. Trump has responded by calling his former U.N. ambassador “a warmonger” while avoiding specifics. For his part, President Biden has sought to portray Trump’s coyness as a sign that he’s too friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying last month, “There’s a lot of agreement between Moscow and Mar-a-Lago.”
When it comes to how the land war in Eastern Europe affects American politics, it isn’t a clear-cut case of dove vs hawk, however. While Trump regularly warns of the possibility of “World War III” and promises to negotiate a peace deal, he has left the door open to continued support for Ukraine.
“President Trump has long advocated for our European allies to pay their fair share on all foreign affairs, and he has long said that when he is reelected as president, he will end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours,” said campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt, who directed RealClearPolitics to previous statements on the issue.
Trump earned condemnation last May when he declined during a CNN town hall to back Ukraine over Russia, telling voters instead that he wants “everybody to stop dying” and vowing to make a deal to end the war. Less noticed was a condition placed on aid to Ukraine spelled out in his answer to a Fox News questionnaire two months prior.
After calling on European allies to “retroactively” pay back the U.S. for support already rendered, Trump said that Ukraine ought to be told “that there will be little more money coming from us, UNLESS RUSSIA CONTINUES TO PROSECUTE THE WAR.”
But Putin has certainly met that precondition. Despite massive casualties, Russian resolve does not appear to be waning under the current circumstances, and ahead of a presidential election he is all but certain to win, Putin vowed to press further into Ukraine in the months ahead.
“I don’t worry much about it,” Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s defense intelligence directorate, told CNN when asked about aid slowing under a second Trump term. He added that despite Trump’s skepticism of foreign aid, the former president “is an experienced person. He has fallen many times and gotten back up again. And this is a very serious trait.”
“I feel strongly if elected president, Trump would not abandon Ukraine,” said James Carafano, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank skeptical of foreign aid to Ukraine.
“The first step he would take would be to sit down with European allies and have a heart-to-heart talk,” added Carafano, who advised Trump’s presidential transition, “saying we all have to be realistic, step up to the plate, and do the sensible, responsible things we need to do, to end the suffering of the Ukrainian people, help them retain their freedom and look after our interests, and everyone needs to step to the plate and take this seriously. If you do, the U.S. will.”
A former senior White House official familiar with Trump’s thinking told RCP that he expected Trump to immediately make good, if elected, on his promise to reach out to Putin and Zelensky. If Russia rejects a peace deal, the official said he anticipates that Trump “would give Zelensky everything needed to complete the operation, which this administration has not done.”