KYIV, UKRAINE – EU foreign ministers assured Kyiv of their continued support on Monday (2 October), amid concerns that a pro-Russian candidate’s win in Slovakia and the US Congress dropping Ukraine war aid from its spending bill might be a sign of its waning.
In a show of solidarity with Ukraine, both the EU and Kyiv tried to brush off the uncertainty as Russia’s offensive went into its 20th month with a rare gathering of EU foreign ministers outside the bloc.
Monday’s meeting came at a difficult moment amid a slower-than-expected Ukrainian military counter-offensive and concerns over signs of fatigue in the West.
“[We want] to make clear that this meeting of EU foreign ministers in Kyiv should be understood as a clear commitment to Ukraine and our continued support in all dimensions,” the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell told reporters in Kyiv after the talks.
“It is also a strong message to Russia that we are not intimidated by your drones or missiles – we will continue to stand with Ukraine,” he added.
His Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba called the meeting “a tool to dispel the notion of disunity”.
Before the talks, both Borrell and Kuleba expressed confidence that Washington would continue to support Ukraine, even after lawmakers in Washington dropped a funding package for Kyiv in order to avert a government shutdown.
The decision in Washington had sent shock waves across the Atlantic with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowing on Sunday his country would fight on to victory without an “expiration date”.
“I’m sure this decision will be reconsidered and altogether, we’ll continue to be on your side,” Borrell told reporters in Kyiv, speaking alongside Kuleba, who also downplayed the US Congress decision, saying he does not feel “that US support has been shattered.”
“The question is whether what happened is an incident or a system – I think it was an incident,” he said, adding that Kyiv would work “with both sides of the Congress to ensure it doesn’t repeat again, under any circumstances.”
In Kyiv, EU foreign ministers put on a brave face and also expressed confidence that Washington would continue backing Ukraine as long as President Joe Biden remains in office.
France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna underlined that “Biden expressed his commitment, so we have no doubt that the US will remain on the side of Ukraine”.
The concerns come also due to the fact that while Europe has shouldered a growing part of Western assistance to Ukraine, its ability to scale up military and economic support to make up for a reduction in US assistance remains minuscule.
“We simply do not have a plan for a US exit strategy, and hopefully we will not need one,” one European diplomat told Euractiv.
Delivering on promises
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, meeting the ministers, said the duration of the war was linked to the quality and quantity of support received from Western allies.
“Our victory directly depends on our cooperation: the more strong and principled steps we take together, the sooner this war will end,” Zelenskyy said.
He urged the EU to expand sanctions on Russia and Iran, which has supplied attack drones for Russian forces and he called for the “acceleration” of work to direct “frozen Russian assets to finance the restoration of war-torn Ukraine”.
Speaking to reporters after the talks, Borrell said he had proposed to Ukraine a new multi-annual envelope inside the European Peace Facility (EPF) of up to EUR5 billion for the next year.
“I hope we can reach an agreement before the end of the year,” he said.
Before the summer, the EU’s diplomatic service EEAS had drafted a proposal for a dedicated ‘Ukraine Assistance Fund’, embedded into the EPF, to keep the country’s armed forces equipped for the next four years at a cost of up to EUR20 billion, or EUR5 billion annually.
Borrell’s proposal still requires the green light of all EU member states but no decisions have been made so far, with discussions expected to take place by the end of this year.
But so far negotiations have proved laborious, with the regular top-ups to the fund often running into delays or outright opposition from Hungary and there are concerns this could also prove difficult with the new plans.
Hungary was not represented by Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in Kyiv but by the country’s deputy state secretary.
Estonia’s Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna, speaking to a group of reporters including Euractiv, stressed the need to “deliver these decisions from the EU”.
This would include continued military aid under the European Peace Facility (EPF) with the next 500EUR tranche still held off by Hungary and the EU’s plans to deliver one million rounds of ammunition, Tsahkna said.
Tough winter ahead
Last week Russia launched its largest missile barrage against Ukraine in weeks, signalling difficult winter months ahead and the likelihood of a renewed push by Moscow to bombard critical power stations and other infrastructure.
Speaking to reporters in Kyiv, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called for efforts to prepare Ukraine for the coming winter, including through air defence and guaranteed energy supplies, after Russia bombed Ukraine’s energy infrastructure last year.
“Last winter, we saw the brutal way in which the Russian president is waging this war,” Baerbock said.
“We must prevent this together with everything we have, as far as possible,” she added.
Beyond military support, many EU foreign ministers also attempted to dispel concerns after pro-Russian former prime minister Robert Fico won the most votes in the Slovak election on Sunday.
His campaign had called for “not a single round” of ammunition from Slovakia’s reserves to be sent to Ukraine.
The Kremlin had attempted to cast a shadow over Western support efforts earlier on Monday, saying that Western fatigue over Ukraine “will grow” as the future of US aid for Kyiv hung in the balance.
A compromise struck in the US Congress over the weekend left out fresh funding for Ukraine due to opposition from hardline Republicans.
Moscow has long counted on Western countries growing tired of supporting Kyiv and on divisions arising within Western alliances.
“Fatigue over this conflict – fatigue from the completely absurd sponsorship of the Kyiv regime – will grow in various countries, including the US,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that Washington would nonetheless “continue its involvement in this conflict”.
“Fatigue will lead to the fragmentation of the political establishment,” Peskov said.
US President Joe Biden, however, has sought to reassure Kyiv and vowed “not to walk away” from Ukraine.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]
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