A Ukrainian Congressman Who Idolized Reagan Tries To Convince Today’s Republicans
Now a member of his country’s parliament, Zablotskyy, 37, faces the prospect that his favorite politician’s party could turn against Ukraine when it needs it most – under invasion and bombardment. relentless attacks from Russia, with about a fifth of its lands occupied and its economy in tatters.
In Washington, congressional Republicans, who are poised to take control of the House, have pledged to take a closer look at the Biden administration’s requests for help from Ukraine. Some expressed skepticism about continued aid to Ukraine; others could obstruct aid programs as part of a broader effort to thwart President Biden’s agenda ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
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On Monday afternoon, Zablotskyy stood near the 164-foot Arch of Freedom in Kyiv’s Pecherskyi district, originally built in 1982 to symbolize the strength of Ukraine-Russia ties and called the Arch of Friendship of Peoples. Earlier this year, Ukrainian officials renamed the monument to strip it of its Soviet past, and Reagan’s statue will be placed here after the war ends.
“What I can do is explain that Ukraine is important to the whole world and that we are fighting for values and ideals that should be equally important to both parties,” Zablotskyy said in an interview. .
After Republicans won a slim majority in the House in the midterm elections, many of the most powerful right-wing advocacy groups issued a memo urging Congress to “not rush” into the agenda. aid offered by Biden to Ukraine, even as Ukrainian leaders are calling for immediate help.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson lambasted Biden’s support for Ukraine, and former President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration or warm feelings for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have pledged unwavering support for Ukraine.
Amid those divisions, some House Republican leaders are considering demanding that Biden agree to GOP-backed spending cuts in return for funding for Ukraine, said Congressional Republican economic adviser Stephen Moore.
That could complicate aid packages by tying them to policy changes — like reversing Biden’s plan to spend more on clean energy — that Democrats will reject. The White House is hoping to secure approval for its latest $38 billion aid request for Ukraine before Republicans take control of the House in January.
“It’s a very controversial issue within the caucus right now,” Moore said. “It’s all going to have to be paid for from now on, and it’s going to be a big fight because Democrats won’t want to have to cut national aid programs to Ukraine.”
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In the United States, conservatives who support Ukraine say they see Zablotskyy as almost uniquely positioned to defend Kiev’s case with the new Republican majority in the House.
For more than a year, Zablotskyy made presentations once every two weeks at “the Wednesday meeting,” a coalition of prominent conservative organizations led by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a anti-tax organization. Zablotskyy has spoken to more than a dozen lawmakers and has strong ties to conservative think tanks and advocacy groups such as the Atlas Network.
In November, Zablotskyy launched a program with the Republican mayor of Miami to send weapons confiscated by US police to Ukrainian citizens — part of his goal to bring American Second Amendment culture to Ukraine. He secured $100,000 in donations last month from two conservative gun rights donors to buy guns for Ukraine, as well as a donation of 150,000 bullets. (Zablotskyy declined to name the donors, saying they wished to remain anonymous.)
As a child, Zablotskyy watched his parents carry their blue and yellow flags during street protests in 1990, as the collapse of the Soviet Union gave Ukraine its independence. He was too young to remember Reagan’s presidency, but he learned about the politician as a child and came to revere him.
“Maryan can speak directly to the commitment to freedom in Ukraine that resonates with those who believe in Ronald Reagan’s worldview,” Norquist said in an interview. “He’s really the person who has met the broad center-right movement on a regular basis.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, another famous actor-turned-politician, partially “modeled his political image on Ronald Reagan”, according to Andriy Gerus, chairman of the Ukrainian parliament’s Energy Committee. In his inaugural speech in 2019, Zelensky quoted Reagan as saying “government is the problem.”
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But Zablotsky’s affinity for American conservatism is not universally shared in Ukraine. Many Ukrainian politicians hope to align their country with the moderate democracies of the European Union, which they plan to join, and have little affinity for republican ideas on guns, the economy or other political issues. , said Nazar Zabolotnyi, an analyst at the Center of United Actions. , a Ukrainian nonprofit group dedicated to nonpartisan political analysis.
“Ronald Reagan is a role model for many Ukrainians, but I think it’s more about understanding the danger from Russia and not so much Reagan’s ideology,” Zabolotnyi said. “You don’t find a lot of people here who will say to you, ‘I’m a Reagan fan.'”
GOP voters, for their part, seem increasingly lukewarm about Ukraine. About 50% of Republicans supported giving economic aid to Ukraine in a survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last month, up from 64% in July and 74% in March.
A Wall Street Journal poll released in November found that about 48% of Republican voters think the United States is doing too much to help Ukraine, up from just 6% in March.
David Arakhamia, a friend of Zablotskyy who is leader in Ukraine’s parliament, said he thought Republicans would support Ukraine, but pointed to comments from Rep. Kevin McCarthy (California) – who is aiming to become Speaker of the House after that the Republicans will have taken control of the chamber in January – on the rejection of “blank checks” for Ukraine as a cause for concern.
“They’re worried about the Trump wing rhetoric – ‘no more blank cheques,’ all this stuff about black market guns,” Arakhamia said, alluding to claims in the conservative media that guns supplied by the United States to Ukraine would have disappeared. “People are worried because it can really affect the scene of war dramatically.”
Zablotskyy remains convinced that the American party with which he identifies will ultimately measure up to Ukraine. But, he noted, the Ukrainians must make it clear that they do not take US support for granted. “We have to do our part to show how much we appreciate it,” he said.