The short-lived mutiny by the Wagner mercenary forces against Russian President Vladimir Putin has bolstered the cause of defense hawks pressing for more money for Ukraine.

Divisions among House Republicans regarding support for Ukraine have posed real challenges for hawkish lawmakers hoping to provide more aid to Kyiv.

GOP critics argue the funding is a drain on U.S. resources, and the recently passed debt ceiling deal imposed a strict cap on defense spending.

Now, the revolt led by Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has raised significant questions about Putin’s strength — doubts the Russian leader tried to dispel with on-camera remarks Monday evening.

Those arguing for a further bolstering of Ukraine can argue the Western support is really making a difference in the grinding war, and defense experts and GOP aides predict it will be tougher for deficit-minded Republicans to shut down a push for a Ukraine spending supplemental.

“This has shown real weakness in the political command — not just the military — of the Russian federation, and it’s an opportunity for us and the Ukrainians. Let’s get this war done. Let’s get the Russians while they’re disorganized politically and militarily and stop dragging it out,” said Evelyn Farkas, executive director of the McCain Institute and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia and Ukraine in the Obama administration. 

Farkas said Putin’s decision to negotiate with Prigozhin to avert a potential civil war undercuts the arguments of some policymakers who oppose military aid out of fear of escalating the conflict in Ukraine. 

“One of the arguments against providing too much equipment has been — at least I would say maybe more on the left than the right — fear of Putin somehow escalating. We have seen he is a rational actor,” she added. “I would say we’ve seen evidence that he might actually back down if he’s facing a loss in Ukraine. Ultimately, what matters more to him than expanding the empire is his political survival.” 

The mutiny, which had been described as an attempted coup against Putin, changes the narrative in Washington about the war, which in recent weeks had focused on the slow pace and costly gains of Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive.  

The sudden, if temporary, defection of Russia’s vanguard private military force now raises the prospect that Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has dramatically undermined his grip on power.   

A Senate Republican aide said the Biden administration has an opportunity to press Congress for more money for the war in Ukraine, despite President Biden reaching a deal with McCarthy only a month ago to set a cap on defense spending.  

“I’ll be very curious if the administration does anything out of the ordinary in the next few weeks,” the aide said, adding that defense hawks would like the administration to put together a request for a new Ukraine and defense supplemental spending package soon. 

“When members come back [from the July 4 recess], I expect that hawkish Republicans and Democrats [will] make the argument that this is not the time to slow down, in fact, we should accelerate as we should have been doing all along,” the aide said. “It’s a unique opportunity. 

“When you get opportunities like this, when the enemy has no real cohesion, these are the opportunities to strike,” the aide added, noted that the Ukrainian counteroffensive is expected to stretch into the fall.  

Prigozhin’s army of mercenary professional soldiers and raw prison recruits served on the front lines of the war and delivered one of Russia’s biggest military victories after a long, drawn-out battle over the city of Bakhmut.  

His decision to march on Russia’s southern military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don and then toward Moscow may have created new gaps in the lines. 

Prior to the Prigozhin-led mutiny, which for about 24 hours appeared to put Moscow itself under military threat, the Biden administration was not expected to submit its proposal for another emergency supplemental spending package until September.  

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has made an argument on the Senate floor nearly every day in recent weeks for continued support for the war and NATO allies. 

McConnell noted on the Senate floor June 21 that even Japan and Taiwan, non-NATO allies, have “devoted serious resources to Ukraine’s defense.”  

The Senate GOP leader has said that defeating the Russian invasion of Ukraine will deter a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan.  

Some policy experts, however, don’t think the divisions exposed by the short-lived mutiny will end the debate over sending tens of billions of dollars in new U.S. funding to help Ukraine expel the invading Russian army. 

“The mutiny is definitely a sign of weakness for Putin, but it’s not enough to quiet increasing calls to ramp down funding for the war. After over $160 billion spent with no end in sight, there will be a lot of pressure on Republicans against cutting yet another big check later this year. It certainly won’t come without a sizable fight,” said John Ullyot, a former spokesman for the Trump administration’s National Security Council. 

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in U.S. defense strategy and the use of military force, said “it’s too soon” to know the full implications of what the aborted mutiny means for the course of the war.  

“By later this summer, we’ll also know about whether the Wagner group has been largely integrated into the Russian military. Just as importantly, we’ll learn more about the prospects of Ukraine’s offensive,” he said.  

The wild card in the upcoming battle in Congress over more money for Ukraine is Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).  

Proponents of continued U.S. military and economic aid to Ukraine view McCarthy as generally supportive of the cause, but given his narrow five-seat majority, the Speaker has been careful to cater to House conservatives concerned about the nation’s $32 trillion debt.  

A small group of House conservatives have called for an end to U.S. military and economic aid to Ukraine, and they have potential allies in the Senate, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who last year delayed a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. 

McCarthy earlier this month poured cold water on the idea of passing an emergency supplemental spending package anytime soon, given that Congress just passed a bill to cap defense spending at $886 billion for fiscal 2024.  

McCarthy declared in October there would be no “blank check to Ukraine” if Republicans won the House majority during the following month’s elections.  

Speaking at a press conference in Israel on May 1, though, McCarthy emphasized: “I vote for aid for Ukraine, I support aid for Ukraine.”  

A second Senate Republican aide said GOP senators think McCarthy will support a Ukraine and defense spending supplemental when the time comes, but right now believe his focus is on managing the politics of his House GOP conference.  

“I think McCarthy is trying to survive one day at a time. His comments in Israel were noteworthy,” the aide said. “He’s got plenty of things keeping him busy over in the House.” 

The aide said the mutiny within Russia’s armed forces “shows staying the course is the right thing to do” and there “are weaknesses on the other side.”  

Danielle Pletka, a distinguished senior fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said support for the war among Republicans is “solid expect for those ideological opponents.” 

“Ideological opponents aren’t going to be persuaded by this, because they don’t think we should be doing anything anyway,” she said. “If you don’t think we should be in Ukraine, the idea that Russia is crumbling and could collapse isn’t going to persuade you that we should be in Ukraine. It’s not a logical argument; it’s an ideological argument. So the facts are kind of immaterial.” 

She said “every Russia expert will tell you [the war] has been hugely destabilizing to [Putin].” 

“Prigozhin put it best. He basically said there was nothing go on [in Ukraine], there was no cause to start this war and we’re not winning. Those are three pretty fatal accusations,” Pletka noted. 

A survey released Sunday by the Reagan Presidential Foundation showed that three-quarters of Americans think it’s important to U.S. national security that Ukraine win the war against Russia, including 86 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans.  

The poll of 1,254 U.S. adults conducted from May 30 to June 6 showed that 59 percent support sending U.S. military aid to Ukraine.  

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