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4th Mar 2024

EU ministers go to Kyiv to downplay fears on US, Slovak aid

  • EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell (c) at a memorial for fallen Ukrainian soldiers (Photo: ec.europa.eu)
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EU foreign ministers meeting in Kyiv on Monday (2 October) sought to debunk stories the West was tired of helping Ukraine.

The first event of its kind in EU diplomacy saw the ministers attend an "informal foreign-affairs council" in their neighbouring warzone.

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  • EU ministers' meeting in Kyiv on Monday was first of its kind (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Almost all of them wore lapel badges showing the Ukrainian flag inside a blue ring with gold stars, the colours of the EU flag, in what looked like a metaphor of EU protection or future enlargement.

But the Hungarian foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, was conspicuous by his absence, after his Russia-friendly government sent a lowly deputy instead.

Dutch minister Hanke Bruins Slot stood out for her heartfelt comment.

"It's important Ukrainian soldiers have good ammunition, good equipment to fight, to fight for the people of Ukraine, but to fight also for the freedom of Europe. It's not only the war of Ukrainians, but it's the war of Europe as a continent. I feel that deeply," she told press.

"Ukraine is fighting not only for its freedom, but our freedom as well," said Estonian foreign minister Margus Tsankha, amid long-held fears that Russia could attack the Baltic states if it wins in Ukraine.

"The security situation in and around Ukraine is dire," said Romanian foreign minister Luminița Odobescu, noting that Russian-drone debris has been falling on Romania's side of the border.

Renewed warfare in the South Caucasus and rising tensions in the Western Balkans were being fuelled by the Ukraine conflict, Lithuania's foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis also warned.

Despite the high stakes, the US Congress last week froze new funding for Kyiv in a Washington punch-up between the Republican and Democrat parties.

Slovakia's likely new prime minister Robert Fico repeated on Monday that he would stop his country's arms shipments to Ukraine.

Musk trolling

In a sign of how Ukraine-bashing is becoming fashionable on the populist right, US social-media baron Elon Musk also posted a photo mocking Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky's international aid appeals.

And Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov echoed Musk the same day, saying: "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".

Peskov likewise defended Fico, who is openly pro-Russian, saying his EU critics were "absurd".

But for her part, French foreign minister Catherine Colonna poured cold water on that whole narrative.

The EU-27 meeting in Kyiv was a "message to Russia that it shouldn't count on our lassitude", she said.

"[US] president [Joe] Biden expressed his commitment, so we have no doubt that the US will remain on the side of Ukraine," she said, following the US leader's public reassurances over the Congress glitch.

"I can't imagine anything otherwise ... it's too serious," she added.

The EU ministers' meeting in Kyiv was "more than symbolic", it was "an instrument for debunking Russian disinformation," said Ukraine foreign minister Dmitry Kuleba.

The Danish foreign minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, voiced sympathy with Republican views, saying the EU should be paying more for the Ukraine war effort because the conflict was "on our own soil", compared geographically to the US.

But EU foreign-affairs chief Josep Borrell also told Ukraine: "I'm sure this [Congress] decision will be reconsidered and altogether, we'll continue to be on your side".

No one in Slovakia had indicated it might exit EU-assistance programmes for Ukraine, whatever Bratislava might do bilaterally in future, Borrell said.

"We're not intimidated by Russian drones, missiles," he added on a personal note, after a salvo of Russian fire hit the Odessa region in south-east Ukraine this weekend — just one day after Borrell's own visit to see a ruined cathedral there.

"Let's see what will be the government coalition [in Slovakia] and who will be prime minister," Czech foreign minister Jan Lipavský said, noting that Fico might not have things all his own way even though his party won Saturday's election.

Financial and military aid from Europe would keep flowing for "as long as it takes", EU minister after minister repeated in Kyiv on Monday.

EU ministers spoke of bilateral aid projects, showing the devastation wreaked by Russia's army.

Belgium was focusing on support for Ukrainian war-widows and orphans as well as mothers of Ukrainian children abducted by Russia, said Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib.

Croatia would use its experience in the Yugoslav-war tribunals in The Hague to help Ukraine pursue Russian war criminals, its foreign minister said.

Italy was sending architects to help repair the Odessa cathedral after it was bombed by Russian jets, its minister added.

Germany was focusing on Ukrainian energy systems, amid fears Russia would bomb heating and water supplies for civilians as they did last winter.

And France was signing a comprehensive memorandum of understanding on long-term military and business cooperation with Ukraine by the end of the year, Colonna said.

EU enlargement

Meanwhile, Ukraine applied for fast-track EU membership following Russian's invasion last year.

The European Commission will, next month, recommend whether the EU should start formal accession negotiations with Kyiv by the end of this year.

And any Nato or military support aside, Ukraine enlargement would be the EU's "strongest security commitment" to its neighbour, Borrell said in Kyiv.

There is zero prospect seen of accession until the war ends, no matter how well Ukrainian reforms might go.

But "with every village, with every metre that Ukraine liberates, with every metre in which it rescues its people, it is also paving its way to the European Union," German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock also said.

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