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Ukraine’s backers ready for the long haul

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In this week’s edition: UNGA recap, Zelenskyy show and planning for the day peace comes to the Middle East.

NEW YORK – Cracks have started showing this week in the support Ukraine has received from its biggest backers for its fight against Russia.

Over the past months, Western officials have warned to prepare for a long war in Ukraine. The US insists it will stay the course for “as long as it takes”, as US President Joe Biden has put it several times this year. Over in Europe, the UK, France, Germany and especially Eastern European allies have all used the same phrase.

Analysts point to the fact that this would depend both on the ability to provide Ukraine with enough weapons and ammunition and the political will to do so.

But Europeans have started to worry, and a fear is slowly emerging on both sides of the Atlantic, that support might not hold as fractures have emerged in what had been a largely united Western alliance behind Ukraine.

Political pre-election posturing in Poland and Slovakia, where a trade dispute with Ukraine has stirred tensions, and Republican opposition in the United States to Washington’s big spending to support Ukraine’s military have raised new uncertainties about the West’s commitment nearly 19 months into the war.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy angered his neighbours in Warsaw – a key military ally against Russia – when he told the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week that Kyiv was working to preserve land routes for its grain exports amid a Russian blockade of the Black Sea, but that “political theatre” around grain imports was helping Moscow’s cause.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki shot back a warning never to “insult” Poles again, an unusually harsh rhetoric towards Kyiv.

In what some observers saw as an unfortunate rather than deliberate coincidence, he later went on to say that his country is “no longer transferring any weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming ourselves with the most modern weapons.”

In the US, the political environment has shifted remarkably since Zelenskyy addressed Congress last December on his first trip out of Ukraine since the war began.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, the United States has provided Kyiv with more than $43 billion worth of security assistance.

When Zelenskyy touched down in Washington earlier this week, after a stop at the United Nations, he received a much quieter reception than the hero’s welcome he was given last year from Congress.

Nevertheless, he won generally favourable comments on the next round of US aid he says he needs to stave off defeat.

A hard-right flank of Republicans, led by former Republican president Donald Trump, Biden’s current main rival in the 2024 race for the White House, is increasingly opposed to sending more money overseas. But it’s not only them.

An August CNN poll showed that a majority of Americans, 55%, say Congress should not authorise more funding for Ukraine.

The opposition is driven by a sharply polarised electorate, with 71% of Republicans opposing new funding, compared to 62% of Democrats who said they support additional funding.

At the same time, intensifying opposition to continued Ukraine funding from a faction of congressional Republicans largely aligned with Trump is threatening the next congressional approval of funding for Ukraine, after four previous rounds, delivering $113 billion in total, were smoothly approved.

The US-Ukraine aid package is expected to ultimately pass, but how much more, and for how much longer, is a question that will remain in Washington long after Zelenskyy returns to Kyiv.

Beyond financial aid, it is something that gives headaches to European diplomats. Many of them probably noticed how US President Joe Biden mentioned Ukraine only towards the end of his speech at the UN.

It’s more than certain that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who hopes to outlast Western backing for Kyiv, will be looking to capitalise if he sees Ukraine running low on air defence or other weapons.

Still, from Washington to Warsaw, where the military cost and capabilities of helping Ukraine are at issue, Western officials are playing down any talk of a rift – and are consolidating attempts to woo non-Western countries to join in and/or remain committed to the long game.

In a coordinated outreach, Europeans this week at the United Nations worked to convince non-European countries that Russia’s war on Ukraine is much more than a European war.

“We have coordinated our outreach to third countries – among all [EU] ministers – and I can tell you that, all together, we are going to have meetings with 133 partners here in New York during this week,” the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said.

His comments come as Kyiv’s Western allies are struggling to court countries of the Global South in the face of a changing world order.

<p data-t=" Brussels, Belgium
EU Med9 summit“>Speaking to reporters in New York, Borrell defined the common European position as the search for “peace, but a just peace” for Ukraine, based on Zelenskyy’s peace plan, for which Europeans intend to gather “the biggest number of support” throughout the week.

But even Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrelius Landsbergis, one of the staunchest supporters of Ukraine in the bloc, spoke of a visible ‘shift’ when it comes to attention spent on Russia’s war in Ukraine in New York compared to last year’s gathering.

Asked what the next steps after New York should be, Landsbergis mentioned the need to “review the strategy of support so that it leads to a Ukrainian victory”.



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