WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 30: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks during for a press conference after the House passed a continuing resolution that would fund the government for 45 days on Saturday, September 30, 2023 on Capitol Hill. (Photo by Tom Brenner for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CNN  — 

Republicans opposed to the US funding Ukraine’s lifeline against Russia scored their first major success when House Speaker Kevin McCarthy didn’t include a $6 billion request for aid in a stopgap bill that averted a government shutdown.

The result, which left President Joe Biden demanding swift action to fulfill Kyiv’s needs, made for a good weekend for Russian President Vladimir Putin. But it left Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with plenty more to worry about after shifts elsewhere in global politics played into Moscow’s push to outlast the West in Russia’s war in Ukraine. Biden suggested he had a “deal” with McCarthy on moving assistance for Ukraine in a separate measure, but the Republican speaker’s office declined to confirm any such agreement.

Drama in the US coincided with another development this weekend that will cause concern in Ukraine. In neighboring Slovakia, former pro-Russia Prime Minister Robert Fico’s populist party won parliamentary elections. Fico anchored his campaign on his anti-US rhetoric, vows to stop sending weapons to Ukraine and a pledge to thwart Kyiv’s NATO ambitions.

Blows to Ukraine in the US and Slovakia came on top of its spat over grain exports with Poland – one of Kyiv’s earliest and most staunch allies – which led Warsaw to warn it could stop arms shipments to its neighbor.

Each of these developments stresses a rising danger for Ukraine – that the arms and aid it needs to sustain its fight against Russia’s onslaught are increasingly getting dragged into the bitter politics of national elections in the West.

Any sign of weakening resolve for arming Ukraine among Western leaders and legislatures is an added incentive for Putin to try to extend the conflict into a war of attrition in the hope that Western publics will tire of the fight and that leaders like ex-President Donald Trump might win power next year and ditch Kyiv.

The headlines are alarming for Ukraine. And while the realities of international politics suggest that time is not yet running out for the remarkable pipeline of arms and aid that fueled its heroic resistance to Russia’s onslaught, the political ground could be shifting and augur serious long-term concerns for Kyiv.

A potential propaganda coup for Putin

In Slovakia, Fico’s SMER party won Saturday’s parliamentary elections in a swing of the political pendulum back toward the populism and nationalism that delivered Trump, Brexit and gains by far-right parties in France and Germany in recent years. In the glow of victory, Fico warned, “Slovakia and people in Slovakia have bigger problems than Ukraine,” and added he would push for peace talks.

Slovakia, a member of NATO, was previously a vocal ally of Ukraine, and a turn against its neighbor would hand Putin valuable propaganda openings. Yet on its own, Slovakia has no power to push negotiations to start. In any case, there’s no sign Ukraine is ready to talk as its offensive grinds on, or that Putin has any political or strategic motivations to do so either. And Fico has to worry about his own coalition-building before he starts deciding Ukraine policy.

And a Slovakian halt to arms shipments is unlikely to tilt the battlefield toward Russia. It did send Kyiv old Soviet MiG jets and other equipment for which it was compensated by the European Union. But its contributions are dwarfed by those of larger European powers and the United States.

A threat to block Ukraine’s entry into NATO sounds alarming. But the NATO summit this year showed that there is no prospect of Kyiv joining the Western alliance soon anyhow. And even before the Slovakian election, getting all alliance members to back its eventual membership was already a struggle. Turkey, for instance, is still blocking the accession of Sweden, a far less controversial new member of the self-defense club.

Slovakia might be home to many voters sympathetic to Moscow given its decades as part of the former Czechoslovakia in the Warsaw Pact under the iron grip of the Soviet Union. But as a NATO member, it is still dependent on the group – and, ultimately, the US – for its defense. And its economy is reliant on its European Union membership. This gives the West substantial leverage in Bratislava.

Geopolitical realities may also be decisive in Poland’s dispute with Ukraine. Many analysts believe temperatures will cool after a tense election later this month. Poland’s antipathy to Russia and desire to prevent it from winning a victory in Ukraine are borne out of decades of bitter political history unlikely to be diluted by shifting political winds. And its posture is also critical to its rising importance to the United States as one of Washington’s most important European allies.

The GOP tide against Ukraine gathers strength

Zelensky’s visit to Washington to shore up Ukraine aid last month looks prescient. But after a wild week, it’s clear that future tranches of US assistance will be far harder for the Biden administration to drive through Congress.

McCarthy, whose speakership is wobbling, pushed through a stopgap spending bill to keep the government open through mid-November, without $6 billion in Ukraine funding the Senate hoped to add to the package – which in itself represented only about a quarter of Biden’s latest Ukraine aid request. The move will not immediately imperil Ukraine on the battlefield, but a longer delay could have serious consequences. And politically, it could embolden Putin and