The EU vowed steadfast support for Ukraine at a summit Thursday but warned leaders — including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — it would be unable to fill any funding gap left by the United States.
Fears have been ignited by political turmoil in Washington, which have prompted President Joe Biden to admit that it “does worry me” that US support for Ukraine might get derailed.
“Can Europe fill the gap left by the US? Well, certainly Europe cannot replace the US,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on arrival at the meeting of the European Political Community (EPC) in Spain.
Zelensky, speaking to the four dozen leaders at the EPC, expressed concern about Washington’s “political storms” but said he was confident he still had US bipartisan backing.
The EU and the United States — together comprising most NATO members — are vital for Ukraine’s fightback.
The European Union and its member countries have promised more than $100 billion in multi-year support to Ukraine, including financing weapon deliveries.
The United States has committed $43 billion in military assistance, while Congress has approved $113 billion in aid including humanitarian help.
But fresh US funding for Ukraine has been put on hold as part of a weekend deal struck with opposition Republicans to avert a US government shutdown.
Europe stepped up its military help for Ukraine on Thursday with Zelensky saying on social media that Germany was working to provide his country with an additional Patriot system to boost its air defenses against Russian attacks.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Berlin had already supplied one Patriot battery to Ukraine, which was “very difficult for us,” and that the additional one will offer “far-reaching protection.”
That announcement came the same day a Russian strike on a Ukrainian village killed at least 51 people, spurring condemnation from the EU, US, and UN chief Antonio Guterres.
Leaders at the EPC summit said Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s calculation was that the West would become fatigued at long-term support of Ukraine, handing him a path to victory.
“I think Russia wants us to be tired,” Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said, adding: “We should show them that we are not. We have to help Ukraine as long as it takes.”
French President Emmanuel Macron reinforced that message in a meeting with Zelensky, vowing “tireless” support for Ukraine.
But within the EU there are fissures. Slovakia announced it has frozen decisions on military aid to neighboring Ukraine after populists opposed to military assistance for Kyiv won a parliamentary election.
The issue of enduring aid for Ukraine was expected to dominate an EU-US summit taking place in Washington in two weeks’ time, between Biden and European Union chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.
Another conflict, that over Azerbaijan’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, also featured large at the summit in Granada.
Most of the territory’s 120,000 ethnic Armenians have fled to Armenia following a lightning offensive by Azerbaijani troops last month to capture the self-proclaimed republic and force its dissolution.
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev skipped the EPC gathering, because of what his office said was France’s “militarisation policy” in the Caucasus and the EU attitude towards the region.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan did attend and sat down with Michel, Scholz and Macron, with the three then issuing a joint statement stressing the “inviolability of the borders of Armenia.”
Aliyev’s office said he was “ready” instead for EU-mediated talks with Pashinyan in Brussels, which Michel told AFP would happen this month at a date worked out with the two leaders.
Migration was another issue batted around the EPC summit, with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Italian counterpart Georgia Meloni pushing for a policy to prevent boats carrying asylum seekers setting off for Europe.
“Tackling illegal migration is a shared European challenge. Numbers are up everywhere,” Sunak told AFP in an interview.
“I believe, as do other European leaders, that it should be us who decides who comes to our countries and not criminal gangs,” he said.