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Ukraine’s allies fret over coalition after US drops aid

Ukraine’s allies fret over coalition after US drops aid
US President Joe Biden addresses the United Nations General Assembly on 19 September 2023 in New York City. (Photo: Adam Gray / Getty Images)

The decision by US legislators to drop a $6-billion aid package for Ukraine is fuelling anxiety among some of Kyiv’s allies that American support for the war effort is starting to waver.

Congress abandoned the funding for Kyiv to help avoid a government shutdown just as Ukraine intensifies efforts to repel Russia’s invasion, stoking concerns that the US is drifting toward isolationism. Less than two weeks ago, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Washington to plead for new weapons systems and continued financial and military support.

The funding development is concerning and needs to be resolved quickly, according to one senior European official, who asked not to be identified. There’s a broader shift in US sentiment, and Putin and other aggressors may be emboldened in the absence of unwavering western support, the official added. One European Union leader predicted that the situation is likely to get more difficult as US elections approach.

Some allies publicly pointed to comments from President Joe Biden, who urged House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to follow up quickly with funding, as evidence that broad international backing for Ukraine’s war effort is intact, and the holdup in aid for Kyiv only temporary.

“President Biden’s actually made it clear that it doesn’t change his view about the continuing gifting and financing,” UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said on Monday during a panel discussion at the Tory Party conference in Manchester. “But of course domestic politics will play into it.”

Congress on Saturday passed a bipartisan measure that would keep the US government funded until mid-November, but the absence of aid to Ukraine was a blow to Biden’s administration.

Asked what he would say to Zelensky and other allies, the US leader said: “I can reassure them. Look at me: We are going to get it done.”

But fresh assistance is becoming more difficult to achieve particularly as the domestic focus in the US increasingly shifts to issues like border security.

Glad to welcome EU foreign ministers at the historic meeting in Ukraine. For the first time in history, outside current EU borders. But also within its future borders. I am grateful to the European Union and personally to @JosepBorrellF for the unwavering EU support for Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/xPjPVExp3S

— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) October 2, 2023

The Biden administration hopes that the recent decision on funding is seen as anomalous, a US official said. Still, several European officials said the move by legislators raised concerns, though US support to Ukraine would likely continue. 

Speaking in Kyiv before Monday’s meeting of European Union foreign ministers, Ukraine’s top diplomat, Dmytro Kuleba, said his government is working with both sides of Congress to make sure support continues.

“We don’t feel that the US support has been shattered because the United States understands what is at stake in Ukraine,” he told reporters. “The question is whether what happened is an incident or a system,” he added. “I think it was an incident.”

The decision to drop the aid was discussed only informally by ministers meeting in Kyiv, and the general assessment is that Washington will find a solution, according to an EU diplomat, who asked not to be identified as the talks were confidential. Nevertheless, concerns remain about the potential outcome of next year’s US election, the official added.

European backing for Ukraine is also facing a new challenge after a candidate sympathetic to Russia won Slovakia’s election on Saturday. Robert Fico has criticised EU sanctions against the Kremlin and pledged to end military aid to Ukraine.

Olena Bilan, chief economist at Kyiv-based investment bank Dragon Capital, said the administration in Kyiv has secured enough financing to cover its budget needs for this year, but warned that next year looks “increasingly challenging”.

“The paradigm is changing as now the Ukrainian government prepares for longer-lasting hostilities than previously expected,” Bilan said in a telephone interview. “Ukraine has become a hostage of difficult political processes in the US.”

We are convening a historic meeting of EU Foreign Ministers here in Ukraine, candidate country and future member of the EU. We are here to express our solidarity and support to the Ukrainian people. https://t.co/zcv6agCcIy

— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) October 2, 2023

The EU’s foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the bloc “deeply and thoroughly” regrets the decision by Congress, while insisting that he’s certain it will be reconsidered.

“This war is having deep consequences for the whole world, but for us Europeans it’s an existential threat,” Borrell told reporters in Kyiv Monday before hosting what he said was the first ever gathering of all 27 member nations outside EU territory.

“Maybe it’s not being seen like this by everybody around the world,” he added. “That’s why we have to continue supporting Ukraine and discussing with our American allies and friends for them to continue.”

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