Kyiv brushes off US, Slovakia wobbles as EU ministers come to town

Kyiv brushes off US, Slovakia wobbles as EU ministers come to town
Kyiv brushes off US, Slovakia wobbles as EU ministers come to town

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - SMER-SSD party leader Robert Fico is seen on a screen as he speaks during a press conference after the country's early parliamentary elections, in Bratislava, Slovakia, October 1, 2023. — Reuters pic

KYIV, Oct 2 — EU foreign ministers convened in Kyiv for their first ever meeting outside the bloc today, broadcasting their support after a pro-Russian candidate won an election in Slovakia and the US Congress left Ukraine war aid out of its spending bill.

Kyiv brushed off the wobbles on both sides of the Atlantic, especially the prospect that the US Congressional vote, which excluded aid to Ukraine from an emergency bill to prevent a government shutdown, represented a deeper change in policy.

“We don’t feel that the U.S support has been shattered... because the United States understands that what is at stake in Ukraine is much bigger than just Ukraine,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters as he greeted the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.

As for the election victory of pro-Russian Slovakian former Prime Minister Robert Fico, Kuleba said it was “too early to judge” the impact on politics there, noting that a new leader would still have to form a coalition.

Monday’s meeting in Kyiv was touted by Borrell as an historic first, and provided striking photo opportunities for a succession of ministers in front of EU flags in the war-time capital.

But it comes at an awkward time for the Western alliance that has supported Kyiv. The summer is coming to a close after a slower-than-expected Ukrainian military counter-offensive, without the major success that Western leaders had hoped to see before autumn mud clogs the treads of their donated tanks.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called for efforts to prepare Ukraine for the coming winter, including through air defence and guaranteed energy supplies, after Russia bombed Ukraine’s energy infrastructure last year.

“Last winter, we saw the brutal way in which the Russian president is waging this war,” said Baerbock. “We must prevent this together with everything we have, as far as possible.”

Fatigue

Moscow touted the congressional vote in the United States as a sign of increasing division in the West, although the Kremlin said it expected Washington to continue its support for Kyiv.

The vote omitting aids funds was “a temporary phenomenon. America will continue its involvement in this conflict, in fact direct involvement,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“But we have repeatedly said before that according to our forecasts fatigue from this conflict, fatigue from the completely absurd sponsorship of the Kyiv regime, will grow in various countries, including the United States.”

Elections are looming in several Western countries, above all next year in the United States where former President Donald is the leading the Republican field in his bid to return to the White House. Several high profile right-wing Trump supporters in Congress have called for a halt to Ukraine aid.

Republicans already control the House of Representatives, one of the two houses of the US Congress. Although most Republican lawmakers still support Kyiv, the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, was forced to rely on Democrats to pass the weekend measure to keep the government open, and might need to rely on them again to support any bill to fund Ukraine. Right wingers have threatened to try to remove him.

President Joe Biden’s administration says it expects the House to pass a measure to keep aid to Ukraine flowing. Biden on Sunday pressed congressional Republicans to back the aid, saying he was “sick and tired” of the political brinkmanship that had nearly shut the government.

Kuleba said Ukraine had “a very in-depth discussion with both parts of the Congress — Republicans and Democrats”, and expects aid to continue.

In Europe, pro-Russian former prime minister Fico won the most votes in an election in Slovakia on Sunday and will get a first chance to form a government. His campaign had called for “not a single round” of ammunition from Slovakia’s reserves to be sent to Ukraine.

“We are not changing that we are prepared to help Ukraine in a humanitarian way,” Fico said at a news conference after his victory. “We are prepared to help with the reconstruction of the state but you know our opinion on arming Ukraine.”

To form a government, Fico would have to establish a coalition with at least one other party that does not publicly share his position on Ukraine.

Russia’s Peskov defended Fico, saying it was “absurd” that politicians who support their country’s national interest were labelled “pro-Russian”.

Slovakia, a Nato state with a small border with Ukraine, has taken in refugees and, under the outgoing government, has provided a disproportionately major supply of weapons, notably being among the first to send fighter jets. — Reuters

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