April 15, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Joe Biden called on world leaders to stand by Ukraine in its struggle to eject Russian troops, even as Kyiv’s allies said they now expect the war to last for years to come.

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The US president’s appeal comes amid growing questions at home about the cost of backing Ukraine’s fight and rising pressure from major developing countries for a quick end to the conflict.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made his case for pressing on with the war effort Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly in New York and will do so in Washington later this week. But with his troops struggling to make major gains on the battlefield despite tens of billions of dollars in weapons, training and other aid from the US and its allies, Zelenskiy is likely to face tougher audiences in both cities.

Accusing Russia of turning everything from food and energy to children into weapons of its war, Zelenskiy told the UN, “Weaponization must be restrained. War crimes must be punished. Deported people must come back home. And the occupier must return to their own land. We must be united to make it. And we will do it.”

But in Congress, opposition is growing to continued funding for support to Ukraine, and several Republican candidates in next year’s presidential elections have called for slashing the commitments. Elsewhere, Ukraine and its allies have made little progress in winning over major nations of the so-called Global South, with many pushing for peace talks.

“We have to stand up to this naked aggression today and deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow,” Biden told the UN gathering Tuesday. The US and its allies and partners, he said, “will continue to stand with the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity and their freedom.”

A senior official from one European Group of Seven country said the war may last as long as six or seven more years and that allies need to plan financially to continue support for Kyiv for such a long conflict.

That’s much longer than many officials had expected earlier this year, but slow progress in Ukraine’s counteroffensive in recent months has tempered expectations. A number of officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“It won’t be easy. It’ll put a lot of pressure on societies, on governments, through different elections in Europe,” Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said in an interview. “But having this midterm strategy of long-term support to Ukraine, it’ll ultimately guide us for having success.”

Still, Ukraine will face increasing challenges with insufficient weapons supplies from the West and increasing manpower losses, a top European official said.

G-7 officials discussed the darker outlook at a dinner on the sidelines of the UN meeting Monday night and agreed that the conflict is likely to last for the medium or long term, a senior US State Department official told reporters Tuesday.

Kyiv and its allies remain opposed to negotiations at present, officials said, unwilling to accept any resolution that doesn’t involve a full withdrawal of Russian troops.

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes the West won’t have the staying power to continue supporting Kyiv, according to a senior US official. But a cease-fire deal accepting Russia’s de facto annexation of the 17% of Ukrainian territory it now occupies is unacceptable and the minimum outcome should be the Kremlin’s withdrawal from all lands it conquered since invading the neighboring state in February last year, the official added.

“The ingredients are not in place for the Ukrainians to make the kind of rapid gains they did last year,” said Dara Massicot, a former Pentagon senior analyst on Russian military capabilities who’s now a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “This is a very hard fight for Ukraine.”

The US and its allies have injected tens of billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine to help it repel Russia’s invasion, which is now in its second year, while avoiding direct action that would widen the scope of the conflict.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he was confident the US and other allies would continue to support Ukraine, despite rising opposition.

“It would be a tragedy for the Ukrainians if President Putin wins in Ukraine, but it would also be dangerous for us,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Not supporting Ukraine would be “much more costly for the alliance in the long run, because then we would be more vulnerable for Russian or Chinese coercion or military threats,” he said. “So it’s in our security interest to support Ukraine, and therefore I’m confident that the United States will continue.”

The European Union announced over the summer an additional €50 billion ($53 billion) support package for Ukraine to be delivered through 2027, which doubles total EU commitments. Germany, Ukraine’s second-biggest supporter in the fight after the US, has pledged to provide €5 billion annually through that period.

But in the US, the $24 billion Biden is seeking in additional support for Ukraine is facing growing opposition in Congress.

Zelenskiy will meet legislators in Washington later this week, including prominent Republicans who’ve questioned the need for more aid.

On Wednesday, Zelenskiy meets Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a prominent leader of the so-called Global South who has so far refused to pick sides.

Allies provided weapons and training for Ukraine’s counteroffensive, but Kyiv’s forces have struggled to break through Russia’s extensive defensive lines.

“The Ukrainians have penetrated several layers of defense. It is not 100% penetrated yet, but they’ve penetrated several of the layers,” General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said after a meeting of allied officials on military support in Germany Tuesday.

US officials wouldn’t commit to provide the longer-range ATACMS missiles that Kyiv has long sought, however, saying that air defenses are a more pressing need. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said a delivery of Abrams tanks would arrive soon, while Denmark, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic pledged Tuesday to provide 45 older-model tanks.

Ukraine is bracing for an escalation of Russian attacks on its energy infrastructure as cold weather approaches and the Kremlin continues to throttle the nation’s grain exports, Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna said.

“People are preparing for a severe winter,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Tuesday. The blockade of Ukrainian ports is a “situation of survival” for the embattled nation’s economy, while Russia’s conditions for restarting a deal to secure Black Sea commerce are “impossible,” she said.

–With assistance from Jenny Leonard and Volodymyr Verbyany.

(Updates with Czech, analyst comments from ninth paragraph)

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