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NATO’s Plan to Trump-Proof Ukraine Aid Shows Worries About US Leadership

NATO Secretary General has a plan to give the alliance control of the group that supplies weapons to Ukraine – a task currently held by the United States.

The move comes amid growing concerns that former President Donald Trump’s re-election could harm future fighting in Ukraine, as well as continued congressional inaction due to a deep political divide over the need for to give more money to Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg raised the idea at a NATO meeting this week, suggesting that the alliance consider taking leadership of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, also called Ramstein group, which organizes the delivery of weapons to Ukraine.

“We must ensure reliable and predictable security assistance to Ukraine over the long term, so that we rely less on voluntary contributions and more on NATO commitments. Fewer short-term offers and more multi-year commitments “said Stoltenberg.

The move would shift control of the group away from the United States, which created and led it since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. The plan was presented by Stoltenberg in order to “protect the mechanism” to secure aid from Ukraine “against the winds of political change,” officials told the Financial Times, an apparent reference to the deepening political division in Washington, DC.

The plan also calls for coordinating $100 billion from NATO allies over the next five years to ensure Ukraine receives the aid it needs to continue its fight. News of the proposal was first reported by POLITICO earlier this week.

At a news conference Wednesday, Stoltenberg declined to give further details about how discussions on the proposal were going, but said NATO was “now developing a stronger and more sustainable institutionalized framework for the support for Ukraine. He added that Ukraine had been informed of this process.

It is not yet clear whether this plan will ultimately gain traction, especially ahead of the NATO summit in Washington in July, but the plan’s emergence appears to highlight growing concern with U.S. leadership.


A Ukrainian soldier from the Khartia brigade fires an AK-47 pellet gun from a trench during training as the Russian-Ukrainian war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, February 7, 2024.

A Ukrainian soldier from the Khartia brigade fires an AK-47 pellet gun from a trench during training as the Russian-Ukrainian war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, February 7, 2024.

Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu via Getty Images



The Ukraine Defense Contract Group has been the key element in providing military aid to Ukraine. The monthly meeting of more than 50 countries, including all NATO members, focuses specifically on purchasing munitions, weapon systems and other technology and equipment for Ukraine.

It was launched by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in April 2022 and has been led by U.S. leaders ever since.

The group’s meetings consisted of some of the most high-profile debates of the war, from whether Germany and the United States would send main battle tanks to Ukraine to where allies of the NATO have landed and providing combat aircraft, such as the F-16.

Recent sessions have seen little progress. The United States, which has sent $44.2 billion in military aid since the full-scale invasion, is by far Ukraine’s largest single supporter. But the spigot has dried up in recent months, as political obstacles in Congress led to inaction on a supplemental funding bill including $60 billion for Ukraine.

This vital aid has been blocked since last October. While the Senate passed a foreign aid bill in February that included that money as well as funds for Israel, House Speaker Mike Johnson has not yet brought it to the House for a vote; It remains unclear whether the bill would garner enough votes to pass, given strong opposition from some Republican lawmakers.

While the United States is unable to provide further aid to Ukraine at the moment, European allies have stepped up to the plate, including Germany and France, as well as the Czech Republic.


Ukraine

A Ukrainian soldier fires towards the Russian position as Ukrainian soldiers of the artillery unit wait for ammunition assistance on the front line towards Avdiivka as the Russian-Ukrainian war continues in Donetsk

Anadolu via Getty



Ahead of Wednesday’s NATO meeting, Stoltenberg made clear that plans to strengthen NATO’s control over support for Ukraine were inspired by what was happening in Congress, saying that “the fact that “There has been no agreement in the U.S. Congress on additional or continued support that has consequences.” “.

“This is one of the reasons why the Ukrainians have to ration the number of artillery shells, why they find it difficult to resist Russian forces with overwhelming military power, because they are able to outmatch them with more ammunition and more artillery,” he said. .

The potential shift in NATO policy and plans also comes ahead of a consequential U.S. presidential election in November, when voters will likely have to choose between incumbent President Joe Biden and presumptive Republican former President Donald Trump .

The latter has made no secret of his distaste for NATO over the years, often spewing inflammatory rhetoric about the alliance benefiting from American funding and how some countries are not “paying their fair share.” During his first term, he even considered removing the United States from the alliance.

He also expressed a desire to end his support for Ukraine and spoke of negotiating a peace deal with Russia that would force Ukraine to cede much of the territory it lost in the war. Ukrainian officials and leaders have rejected such a move, doubling down on their goal of recovering all occupied lands.

During his campaign this year, Trump continued much of the same rhetoric. In February, the former president infuriated many NATO members when he told supporters he would let Russia “do whatever it wants” to NATO countries that don’t spend not enough for the defense of the alliance.

And last month, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a longtime Trump ally and opponent of NATO aid to Ukraine, said Trump would “not give a cent in the Ukrainian war.” and Russia. This is why the war will end. ” Orbán made the comment after visiting Trump at Mar-a-Lago for a social engagement.

In recent years, particularly in the context of the Russian invasion, many NATO members have increased their contributions. Early projections show 18 countries spending the suggested 2% of their GDP on defense, seven more than in 2023. In 2014, only three NATO allies reached this threshold.


U.S. President Donald Trump during his press conference at the 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump during his press conference at the 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018.

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images



If Trump is re-elected, there are fears that the United States will change its position on support for Ukraine, leaving the effort to European allies. Stoltenberg’s proposal would guarantee Ukraine what it needs during a second Trump term and protect his administration’s funding and military aid.

But the move would dilute the United States’ leadership role in the alliance’s support for Ukraine. It would also suggest a growing distrust and distrust of America’s changing political positions.

On Wednesday, the White House opposed such a plan, reiterating the importance of the United States leading the Ramstein Group. “It’s bigger than NATO, it’s about 50 countries around the world, including in the Indo-Pacific region – and what brought them together was American leadership,” Kirby told reporters .

He added that what “keeps them together is American leadership.”

But if the group is, as Kirby described it, “an example of how President Biden has really revitalized our leadership on the world stage to bring countries together to get this done,” then Congressional inaction shows the consequences. boundaries.

At an event hosted by the Hudston Institute in Washington last week, Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said the United States must step up its efforts to help Ukraine. Many countries, Tsahkna said, including China, are watching the war, “so I think (the) United States also needs to wake up, showing more leadership because Europe is doing more right now.” .

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