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Business News/ Specials / Trump’s Ukraine Stance Worries Europe
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Trump’s Ukraine Stance Worries Europe

wsj

U.S. allies fear bipartisan support in Washington for aiding Kyiv could fray

European concerns about Washington’s direction on Ukraine have been gradually growing since last year’s midterm electionsPremium
European concerns about Washington’s direction on Ukraine have been gradually growing since last year’s midterm elections

Donald Trump’s ambivalence about aiding Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion is sowing fresh doubts in Europe about Washington’s ability to sustain its lead role in supporting Kyiv as the U.S. presidential campaign approaches.

Mr. Trump, currently seen as the most likely Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential election, told a town hall event hosted by CNN on Wednesday that his priority would be to put a swift end to the war. The former president refused to say whether he wanted Ukraine to win the conflict and called on Europe to put up more of the money for helping Kyiv.

“Russians and Ukrainians, I want them to stop dying," he said. “And I’ll have that done in 24 hours."

Washington has played the leading role in galvanizing Western military and economic support for Ukraine, and in sanctioning Russia’s economy, since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022.

The U.S. has particularly dominated the delivery of military aid to Ukraine, which European allies’ limited armed forces and defense industries have struggled to match.

Some European officials fear that the war in Ukraine could become a polarizing issue in U.S. domestic politics as the presidential race approaches, splitting voters and members of Congress down partisan lines as Mr. Trump challenges President Biden’s so-far staunch support for Kyiv.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday played down concerns of a growing divide between Republicans and Democrats on the war, although opinion polls have shown a significant drop in Republican support for the Biden administration’s hefty backing of Ukraine.

Ukraine still enjoys significant cross-party support in the U.S. Congress, Mr. Zelensky told the British Broadcasting Corp.

“Who knows where we’ll be" by the time of the U.S. presidential election, Mr. Zelensky said. “I believe we’ll win by then."

Some European officials say the region needs to do more to aid Ukraine, to counter criticism in the U.S. that the continent isn’t pulling its weight and relies too much on Washington for its own security.

“I was not a fan of President Trump, but I think he was right about one thing—Europeans do not share their part of the burden," the European Union’s foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday.

Mr. Borrell warned against any move to reduce Western aid. “If we stop supporting Ukraine, Russia will win the war, will occupy Kyiv," Mr. Borrell said. “We will have Russian troops at the Polish border, our insecurity will increase and Ukraine will not exist."

One senior European diplomat said there was real concern that Mr. Trump was locking himself into a stance on the war that he wouldn’t be able to reverse if he does return to the White House.

Mr. Trump’s views on the Ukraine conflict have long been known, and some European analysts said his comments on CNN wouldn’t force any quick recalibration of the Western stance on the war.

“Yes, the U.S. debate is likely going to get more polarized as the country shifts into campaign gear, but one thing is the talk, another is the walk," said Nathalie Tocci, director of the Institute for International Affairs, a Rome think tank. “I don’t see much of a risk so long as Biden remains in power," she said.

Mr. Trump’s possible return as U.S. president after the 2024 elections could present a bigger challenge to European countries if he questions the U.S.’s commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as he did when he was president. “It’s such a horror scenario, about which Europeans can do little, that they avoid thinking about it too much," Ms. Tocci said.

European concerns about Washington’s direction on Ukraine have been gradually growing since last year’s midterm elections, when Kevin McCarthy, now the House speaker, said Congress would no longer offer blank checks for Ukraine.

However, a significant block of Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have pledged continued support for arming and financing Ukraine. Mr. McCarthy has also said recently that he supports continued assistance for Kyiv.

Mr. Biden has repeatedly said his goal is to support Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion for as long as needed, to put Kyiv in the strongest position possible for eventual peace negotiations with Moscow.

However, European diplomats say there is a debate already in the Biden administration over how sustainable the current level of aid will be by fall, when Congress will have to vote on the next significant aid package.

Ukraine is preparing a major offensive to take back more land from the occupying Russian forces, using fresh brigades trained and armed with Western help. Last year, Ukrainian troops regained around half of the territory that Russia seized in its attack on the country launched in February 2022. With both armies depleted by heavy losses, the front lines in Ukraine’s east and south have moved little in recent months.

The growing uncertainty over the future level of U.S. aid is adding to the perception in Europe that the coming months will be Kyiv’s best chance to retake some of the 18% of Ukrainian territory that Russia still occupies. A successful Ukrainian offensive is seen in Kyiv as vital also for winning continued support from the U.S., while a failed offensive could lead to international pressure to seek a cease-fire and end the fighting.

So far, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown no interest in ending the war, instead indicating that he believes Russia can outlast Ukraine’s resistance and the West’s political willingness to help it.

Mr. Putin is “hoping and banking on Donald Trump winning the next United States elections," Tobias Ellwood, a lawmaker with the U.K.’s governing Conservative party and chairman of the House of Commons’ defense committee, told Sky News on Thursday. “We need to keep up our efforts. We need to make sure it’s not just this counteroffensive that we provide support to but further counteroffensives that will be required."

The U.S.’s European allies are divided over the future course of the war, with some arguing for maximal military aid so that Ukraine can take back occupied land, and others seeking an early opportunity to nudge Kyiv toward cease-fire talks.

But European capitals have overwhelmingly said they would take their lead from the U.S., making the decisions made in Washington about the level of support for Ukraine decisive to their approaches.

“If America folds, we fold," said a senior German official.

European countries have stepped up their military and economic assistance for Ukraine significantly in recent months. Germany has caught up with the U.K. as the biggest European provider of military aid, according to data from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. Germany, the U.K., Poland, Denmark and the Netherlands have all sent or paid for tanks for Ukraine ahead of Kyiv’s planned offensive.

But Europe, having greatly scaled back its armies and defense industries since the Cold War, lacks the capacity to replace the U.S. as the key provider of weaponry and ammunition for Ukraine.

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