In Kyiv, EU assures Ukraine of lasting support amid signs of fatigue

21:24, Wednesday, 04 October, 2023
In Kyiv, EU assures Ukraine of lasting support amid signs of fatigue

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.

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 €5 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 €20 billion, or €5 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 Szijjartó 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”.

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