News USA The EU fears that US support for Ukraine will wane if the...

The EU fears that US support for Ukraine will wane if the counter-offensive is unsuccessful

Russia’s great war in the Ukraine is about to enter a phase that is expected to be decisive. With the eyes of half the world eager for the counter-offensive by the Kiev troops, fueled by an unprecedented supply of Western weapons, this movement has taken a crucial turn. The present and future of Ukraine will depend a lot on what the kyiv army manages to recover in this push. kyiv and the West know it; Moscow fears it. With this transcendental character, the European Union is concerned that if the counteroffensive is not so victorious — at least visibly — the support of the United States, which is looming at a moment of tension in internal politics, with presidential elections in 2024, start to decline.

Kiev’s allies continue to rummage through their dwindling arsenals while looking to the United States, which continues to refuse to cross the red line by supplying some of its powerful fighters to Ukraine. The long-awaited coalition to send modern combat aircraft does not take off, despite pressure from the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands and other European states. This week, after a visit by the Ukrainian president, Volodimir Zelenski, London and Paris have gone a step further by establishing training programs for Ukrainian pilots —for the moment theoretical, without access to the planes— and thus eliminate one of the arguments of the United States not to allow the transfer of their precious F-16s – the unpreparedness of the Ukrainian army. For now, Washington has not authorized kyiv’s military to train on board these US-made planes (a permit required to do so, even if they are owned by European countries).

The UK, which has recently sent long-range precision missiles to Ukraine, sees the coalition to deliver fighter jets more as a signal to Russia than to Ukraine. It is similar to what at the time was the formation of the modern tank coalition that both Germany and the United States were reluctant to join, but which they ended up leading. “It is essential to show Moscow that we as nations have no principled or philosophical objections to supplying Ukraine with the equipment it needs,” British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said Wednesday.

Washington and Brussels have made different levels of commitment to kyiv. Both move under the premise of supporting the country invaded by Kremlin troops “for as long as necessary.” However, while the United States has led military support —36.9 billion dollars (34.268 million euros), since the start of the invasion, according to the State Department—, the Union has established a long-term relationship framework. Brussels has declared Ukraine a candidate country to enter the community club and is removing its structures to gradually assimilate the Eastern country in a kind of de facto union through treaties and agreements -to which is also added the disbursement for military aid.

The EU has supported Ukraine with 72 billion euros. Of these, slightly more than half were in financial assistance and 15,300 million are allocated to military, diplomatic and defense aid, according to data from community institutions. Furthermore, the promise of adhesion, although it does not have a schedule in sight, is a very important variable in the equation, points out a senior community source. So is the fact that for the EU to contribute to the security of its eastern neighbor is also to add to “own security”, says Orysia Lutsevych, head of the Ukraine Forum at the Chatham House think tank. These two points came up a few weeks ago in a meeting between European and American diplomats in which Washington made it clear that support for Kiev was not a bottomless sack, and that both the performance in the battle against Russia and the fact that the EU maintains an upward path to contribute to support are crucial to preserve unity and to keep US support flowing. After the round of talks with Washington, the European side became somewhat restless, points out a diplomat who participated in the preparation of the meeting.

The Government of Volodímir Zelenski, which is also concerned about the possibility of losing support, refuses to trust everything to the counter-offensive, considered by various analysts and Western intelligence sources as the opportunity to change the situation on the ground; above all to be able to push the Kremlin forces in the south, break their logistical routes and even compromise the corridor that Moscow has established between the Crimean peninsula – which it illegally annexed in 2014 – and Donbas. The pressure is on and Zelensky has tried to lower expectations about the gains from the counteroffensive. It is played a lot. And not only territory to recover.

The Joe Biden Administration shows no signs of fatigue in its support, but at the same time it is aware that it has to make visible that the multi-million dollar aid sent to kyiv has an impact. As the full-scale invasion turns 15 months old, the allies’ arsenals are increasingly empty and the accounts are less and less flexible to nurture Kiev. “Excessive dependence on the United States is a risk,” says Lutsevych. “Alleviating it means increasing defense spending and investing in production to replace the material sent to Ukraine,” adds the researcher.

Concern about the course of support for kyiv

The polls also show that within the first group, those who believe that support should have a short expiration date or that too much has already been done, there is an overwhelming majority of Republican voters, or rather, supporters of Donald Trump, says veteran researcher Bruce Stokes from Washington, from the German Marshall Fund, specializing in transatlantic relations. Just weeks ago, the controversial former president cried out in an interview with CNN that the US had already done too much for Ukraine while the EU had barely lifted a finger. And that gives many clues as to what may happen in the coming months. “America doesn’t like to be associated with losers. And so far Ukraine has not been at that point, but there are fears that if the counter-offensive is not as successful, the support of the American public opinion will suffer,” Stokes adds.

There is some consensus among military experts and intelligence sources consulted that the war is unlikely to end this year. And if the war stalls, time may run in Russia’s favor, as well as an increasingly assertive China that is benefiting from its dependence on the Kremlin, says a Western diplomat. In any case, this scenario does not favor the West, since it can weaken the support even of those who now hold it tight. This could translate not only into dwindling military aid to kyiv, but also into pressure for it to sit down and negotiate the terms of some kind of agreement with Russia.

The war in Ukraine is undoubtedly going to be a tension element in the US election campaign, scheduled for fall 2024, but which will start to heat up this fall, says Stokes. A campaign in which Trump intends to be a candidate again. And even if the war ends at the end of this year or there is some kind of ceasefire, the German Marshall Fund expert points out, the multi-billion dollar reconstruction of the country – as well as who will pay and how much it will cost – will be on the table.

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