An EU roundtable with Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Dec. 14.
Photo: European Union
Three moments point to a slow disentanglement from Ukraine by its closest allies. There was Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who felt compelled to go all the way to Argentina just to get some face time with the man stonewalling European Union aid. Next a detour to Washington, where the Ukrainian president, once hailed as a hero, left empty-handed. And then came the summit in Brussels he dialed into remotely after it was made clear his presence wouldn’t be helpful, even when the fate of his country was front and center, notes Bloomberg .
France and Germany and others let it be known showing up wouldn’t be a good idea, according to people familiar with the discussion, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They needed space to try and make a deal with a wayward Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who proudly maintains ties with Russia.
In Brussels, Ukraine notched a largely symbolic win with an agreement to start membership talks. Orban, tellingly, vetoed the planned $50 billion EU aid package, delaying talks into early next year.
In Washington, the House of Representatives left town until Jan. 9 without passing President Joe Biden’s request for an additional $61 billion in assistance to Ukraine as Republicans continue to press demands on border control.
The events of the last week are in stark contrast to the reception Zelenskiy once enjoyed and lay out the uphill struggle for support during a US election year when Donald Trump is vying to retake the White House. There is history between the two. Back in 2019, Trump badgered the newly-elected Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens.
For allies, the flagging of support is tied in part to a much-vaunted counteroffensive that failed to deliver on the high expectations of allies.
Later that evening, Orban forced the EU to kick discussions into 2024. Every day counts for Ukraine at this point as fighting will resume at the onset of spring, with Putin playing for time while Zelenskiy is feeling the pressure to show results on the battlefield.
Kyiv won’t necessarily run out of money in the next few weeks, but the infighting and delays among allies raise questions about the ability for Ukraine’s backers to sustain aid over the long-term, especially as the fight grinds to a stalemate and the US presidential campaign heats up.
After staunchly backing Ukraine for almost two years, more than $110 billion remains shut off on both sides of the Atlantic, with aid for Kyiv increasingly becoming a political bargaining chip.
Some EU leaders noted they could face difficulties maintaining public support for Ukraine if the bloc spent money to Ukraine but couldn’t find cash for other problems.
Nationalist and populist politicians, from the Netherlands to France, are looking for gains in next year’s EU parliament elections and want issues such as keeping migrants out of the EU prioritized over money for a conflict outside their borders.
The US and EU delays on aid for Ukraine risk sending the wrong message, not just to Putin or even Zelenskiy, but also to each other.
European diplomats acknowledged the urgency on aid heading into the summit, particularly as the US is also at an impasse. They are keen to counter any arguments that the EU isn’t pulling its weight to support Ukraine or its own security….
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