How much longer will the world arm Ukraine? Cracks show in Zelensky’s European support,


Cracks are starting to show in the West’s support for Ukraine and its fight against Vladimir Putin‘s invasion.

During a tense weekend in Washington, as Congress passed a short-term funding package that averted a US government shutdown, politicians dropped a $6billion aid package for Kyiv.

Meanwhile Robert Fico, a pro-Moscow populist, won early parliamentary elections in Slovakia, potentially putting another Putin ally at the helm of an EU nation.

The former prime minister, who pledged in his campaign not to send ‘another bullet’ to Ukraine, is set to be asked to form a government after his victory on Sunday.

‘People in Slovakia have bigger problems than Ukraine,’ he has said.

Ukraine and its staunchest allies will be hoping the waver in support is temporary one, albeit during a critical juncture in the war as Kyiv tries to make progress in its sluggish counteroffensive before winter sets in.

In order to shore up the UK’s backing of Kyiv’s efforts against the Kremlin’s forces, former defence secretary Ben Wallace urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to increase military support to Ukraine by more than £2billion.

The veteran Conservative argued that with extra Western weapons, Kyiv could ‘end’ the battle against Russia and expel the invaders.

Cracks are beginning to show in the West's support for Ukraine and its first against Vladimir Putin 's on-going invasion. Pictured: A US Army M1A2 Abrams battle tank is pictured during a joint army training exercise

Cracks are beginning to show in the West’s support for Ukraine and its first against Vladimir Putin ‘s on-going invasion. Pictured: A US Army M1A2 Abrams battle tank is pictured during a joint army training exercise

Robert Fico (centre) - a pro-Moscow populist - won early parliamentary elections in Slovakia, potentially putting another Putin ally at the helm of an EU nation. He has vowed to withdraw Slovakia's military support for Ukraine if his attempt to return to power succeeds

Robert Fico (centre) – a pro-Moscow populist – won early parliamentary elections in Slovakia, potentially putting another Putin ally at the helm of an EU nation. He has vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine if his attempt to return to power succeeds

During a tense weekend in Washington, as Congress passed a short-term funding package that averted a US government shutdown, politicians dropped a $6billion aid package that was set to help Kyiv in its battle against Russia. Pictured: Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy

During a tense weekend in Washington, as Congress passed a short-term funding package that averted a US government shutdown, politicians dropped a $6billion aid package that was set to help Kyiv in its battle against Russia. Pictured: Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy

Saturday’s election in Slovakia was a test for the eastern European country’s support for neighbouring Ukraine in its war with Russia, and the win by Mr Fico could strain a fragile unity in the European Union and Nato. 

Public and exit polls predicted a tight race but in the end, Mr Fico won relatively big after his campaign – considered aggressive and the most radical of his career – attracted voters who favoured the far-Right. With no party winning a majority of seats, a coalition government will need to be formed.

Fico, 59, has vowed to withdraw Slovakia’s military support for Ukraine in Russia’s war if his attempt to return to power succeeds.

Until now, the country of 5.5 million people – created in 1993 following the breakup of Czechoslovakia – has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia invaded last February, donating arms and opening the borders for refugees fleeing the war.

Slovakia has sent its fleet of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets, the S-300 air defence system, helicopters, armoured vehicles and much-needed de-mining equipment.

Meanwhile, it has absorbed 100,000 Ukrainian refugees – more per-capita than any other country except Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic States.

The current caretaker government is planning to send Ukraine artillery ammunition and to train Ukrainian service members in de-mining.

But Fico’s victory could upend Slovakia’s support for its neighbour.

The former PM opposes EU sanctions on Russia, questions whether Ukraine can force out the invading Russian troops and wants to block Ukraine from joining Nato. 

He proposes that instead of sending arms to Kyiv, the EU and the US should use their influence to force Russia and Ukraine to strike a compromise peace deal.

Fico’s critics worry that his return to power could lead Slovakia to abandon its course in other ways, following the path of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban and to a lesser extent of Poland under the Law and Justice party.

Orban, who has also looked to block or disrupt EU support for Ukraine, congratulated Fico. ‘Guess who’s back! Congratulations to Robert Fico… Always good to work together with a patriot,’ the Hungarian leader wrote on Twitter.

Fico was forced to resign as Prime Minister following major anti-government street protests resulting from the 2018 killing of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee.

Ukraine said Monday it respected the ‘choice of the Slovak people’.

‘We respect the choice of the Slovak people,’ Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

‘But it is too early to say how the election result will affect Slovakia’s position,’ he added, saying Kyiv can ‘draw the first conclusions’ after a coalition is formed.

But it is not just Slovakia that is of concern in the European Union.

In other countries, including Germany, France, and Spain, populist parties sceptical of intervention in Ukraine also command significant support. 

Many of these countries have national or regional elections coming up that could tip the balance of popular opinion away from Kyiv and toward Moscow.

Poland, which elects a new parliament on October 15, said last week it would no longer agree to new arms deliveries to Ukraine but instead focus on rebuilding its own stocks.

The NATO member had until recently been seen as one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies in its war with Russia, but relations have soured since Poland’s decision to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports.

Until now, has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia invaded last February, donating arms and opening the borders for refugees fleeing the war. Pictured: Ukrainian servicemen fire a 2S1 Gvozdika self propelled howitzer towards Russian troops, September 26

Until now, has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia invaded last February, donating arms and opening the borders for refugees fleeing the war. Pictured: Ukrainian servicemen fire a 2S1 Gvozdika self propelled howitzer towards Russian troops, September 26

Ukrainian servicemen ride on top of an armoured personnel carrier in Kostyantynivka, Donetsk region, on September 25, 2023

Ukrainian servicemen ride on top of an armoured personnel carrier in Kostyantynivka, Donetsk region, on September 25, 2023

Josep Borrell (seen in Kyiv with Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky) - the top diplomat for the European Union - said the bloc was 'surprised' by the last-minute deal in the US that saw $6billion in aid to Ukraine dropped, and 'regret (the US decision) deeply, thoroughly'

Josep Borrell (seen in Kyiv with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky) – the top diplomat for the European Union – said the bloc was ‘surprised’ by the last-minute deal in the US that saw $6billion in aid to Ukraine dropped, and ‘regret (the US decision) deeply, thoroughly’

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at a polling station in Slovak parliamentary elections on September 30, 2023 in Bratislava

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at a polling station in Slovak parliamentary elections on September 30, 2023 in Bratislava

Meanwhile, resentment is growing among US Republicans over support for Kyiv.

Fico’s victory came on the same weekend that US politicians on Capitol Hill on Saturday passed a short-term funding package that averted a government shutdown but dropped a $6 billion assistance package for Ukraine.

The decision came barely a week after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was in Washington appealing for more funds

It has worried senior officials in the EU, with Josep Borrell – the top diplomat for the European Union – saying the bloc was ‘surprised’ by the last-minute deal and ‘regret (the US decision) deeply, thoroughly.’

‘I have a hope that this will not be a definitive decision and Ukraine will continue having the support of the US,’ he said, speaking from Kyiv. 

The wider signal to the world – that not only Republicans but also some Democrats were willing to sacrifice Ukraine for politics – is damaging, said analyst Brett Bruen.

‘That ought to worry leaders in Kyiv, and I think in Moscow they’re celebrating the signs that our support may be waning,’ Bruen, president of the Global Situation Room consultancy and a former US diplomat, told AFP news agency.

Ukraine is already nervously eyeing the possibility of a return to the White House by Republican former president Donald Trump, who has previously praised Putin.

President Joe Biden has attempted to reassure Kyiv it will get the funding it needs.

Biden and his Democratic party say America has a duty to help Ukraine stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion, warning that a failure to do so could embolden other autocrats in the future. 

Biden urged Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to ‘stop the games’ and said he ‘fully expects’ him to secure passage of a separate bill for Ukraine funding soon.

‘I want to assure our American allies, the American people and the people in Ukraine that you can count on our support. We will not walk away,’ Biden said in an address from the White House on Sunday.

Ukraine played down the blow, saying Sunday it was ‘actively working with its American partners’ to ensure new wartime aid.

US President Joe Biden has attempted to reassure Kyiv it will get the funding it needs

US President Joe Biden has attempted to reassure Kyiv it will get the funding it needs

Ukraine's fight for survival has become a political football just over a year from the US presidential election, with questions mounting over aid approved by Congress that totals $100 billion so far, including $43 billion in weaponry

Ukraine’s fight for survival has become a political football just over a year from the US presidential election, with questions mounting over aid approved by Congress that totals $100 billion so far, including $43 billion in weaponry

Top House Democrats said on Saturday that they expect McCarthy to bring a separate Ukraine aid bill for a vote next week, though it was unclear if it would be the $24 billion Biden originally sought.

But that could be more easily said than done.

Ukraine’s fight for survival has become a political football just over a year from the US presidential election, with questions mounting over aid approved by Congress that totals $100 billion so far, including $43 billion in weaponry.

First, there is a bid to unseat McCarthy next week by hardline Republican Matt Gaetz, one of a core of hard-right members of the party implacably opposed to any more aid for Ukraine.

If he does survive, McCarthy made it clear on Sunday that he would hold out for funding to stop immigrants crossing the Mexican border, a key Republican demand.

‘I’m going to make sure that the weapons are provided for Ukraine, but they’re not going to get some big package if the border is not secure,’ McCarthy told CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’ on Sunday.

Even if McCarthy does agree on the Ukraine aid, possibly in a deal with Democrats to allow him to stay as speaker, there is a wider problem – war fatigue.

Skepticism is spreading from the hardline Republicans to more moderate lawmakers who say they won’t write Ukraine a ‘blank check.’

More worryingly for Biden and Kyiv, inflation-hit American voters appear to have similar concerns about Ukraine.

An ABC/Washington Post poll released September 24 showed 41 percent of respondents saying the United States was doing too much to support Ukraine, up from 33 percent in February and just 14 percent in April 2022.

Making the problem even tougher is a Republican impeachment inquiry into Biden over his son Hunter’s business deals in Ukraine.

The Biden administration’s answer is simple – if Russia is not stopped in Ukraine, the rest of the world could be at risk.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged Congress to ‘live up to America’s commitment to provide urgently needed assistance to the people of Ukraine as they fight to defend their own country against the forces of tyranny.’

Analyst Bruen added that even a temporary delay on Ukraine funding was a ‘big boost to the detractors.’

‘I think that, over the long term, is going to prove more problematic,’ he added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) and Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg (left) give a press conference following talks in Kyiv on September 28, 2023

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) and Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg (left) give a press conference following talks in Kyiv on September 28, 2023

In Britain, former defence secretary Ben Wallace urged the UK’s prime minister to increase its backing for Kyiv amid the wavering support elsewhere.

Writing for The Daily Telegraph, the former Scots Guard lamented that the UK was no longer Kyiv’s biggest military backer in Europe, having slipped behind Germany. 

Mr Wallace said one of his final acts as defence secretary was to press for further financial backing from Prime Minister Sunak for Zelensky and his forces.

‘We have a chance to help finish this. The Russian army is cracking,’ Mr Wallace said.

‘We need to give Ukraine the support it requires to see this war to the end.

‘Before I left office, I asked the PM to match or increase the £2.3 billion pledged to Ukraine this year, to add to the £4.6 billion we have spent already.’

The former cabinet minister urged Britain to ‘help Ukraine maintain its momentum’ in the counter offensive, a push that will require more munitions and storm shadow missiles and other long-range weapons, he said.

Mr Wallace said that with Kyiv’s troops ‘pressing forward’ against heavily-mined Russian defences, it was possible the next stage of the conflict which has been raging since February 2022, could be the ‘beginnings of the battle for Crimea’ – the peninsula in southern Ukraine annexed by Moscow in 2014.

No 10, which said it would not be responding to Mr Wallace’s remarks, has requested the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) views on future spending, according to the Telegraph. The MoD said it would not be commenting.

The UK committed £2.3 billion of military support in 2022 and the Government confirmed it would sustain that in 2023.

Officials said Britain remains committed to providing Kyiv with long-range precision strike weapons, artillery, air defence and armoured vehicles, while also liaising with Zelensky’s administration about their requests for more weapons.

The funding debate comes after Mr Sunak made clear that British troops would not train Ukrainian forces in the war-torn country while its battle with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s troops is going on.

In Britain, former defence secretary Ben Wallace (pictured in June) urged the UK's prime minister to increase its backing for Kyiv amid the wavering support elsewhere

In Britain, former defence secretary Ben Wallace (pictured in June) urged the UK’s prime minister to increase its backing for Kyiv amid the wavering support elsewhere

A Ukrainian serviceman loads shells into a a tank in Donetsk region, Ukraine, September 28

A Ukrainian serviceman loads shells into a a tank in Donetsk region, Ukraine, September 28

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, who replaced Mr Wallace, had said in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph that ‘eventually’ he would like to conduct Britain’s long-standing training ‘in country’ rather than in the UK.

Mr Sunak said the senior minister was expressing a ‘long-term’ ambition and not something for the ‘here and now’.

‘There are no British soldiers that will be sent to fight in the current conflict. That’s not what’s happening,’ he told broadcasters during a visit to Burnley on Sunday.

The UK has trained more than 25,000 Ukrainian armed forces personnel, according to official MoD figures.



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