Biden seeks to reassure Ukraine as war aid becomes US political battleground


US president Joe Biden said America would “not walk away” from Ukraine after Congress jettisoned $6bn in aid to avert a government shutdown, even as Republicans tied further funding to the contentious issue of border security.

“I want to assure our American allies, the American people and the people in Ukraine that you can count on our support,” he said on Sunday. “We will not walk away.”

Biden added that the “vast majority of both parties” supported helping Kyiv, urging lawmakers to “stop playing games — get this done”.

During a fraught weekend on Capitol Hill, lawmakers omitted additional money for Ukraine from the bipartisan bill that will fund the US government until November 17, in a surprise eleventh-hour compromise accepted by the White House.

The move came just days after Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s president, visited Washington to try to rally support for renewed aid.

Ukraine aid has been a flashpoint in US politics for months, but the move to strip it from the deal nonetheless shocked many of Kyiv’s allies.

While on a visit to Kyiv on Sunday, Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said he was “surprised” by the decision, which, he said, “we have to regret, deeply and thoroughly”. Europe would continue to back Kyiv regardless, he added: “We haven’t waited for this decision to be taken . . . our support to Ukraine not only continues but increases.”

Nils Schmid, a spokesman for Germany’s governing Social Democrats, warned that “Ukraine is at risk of becoming a victim of radical Republicans”.

“I hope the majority in both parties in Congress, which wants to continue supporting Ukraine, will quickly pass a resolution to this effect,” he said. “Otherwise the credibility of US foreign policy will be badly damaged.”

On Sunday, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, told CBS News that while he was committed to backing Ukraine, “the priority for me is America and our borders”.

“I’m going to make sure that the weapons are provided for Ukraine, but they are not going to get some big package if the border is not secure,” he said.

Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina, told CBS News there was bipartisan support in the Senate for both Ukraine assistance and shoring up the Southern border.

“I think there’s Democratic support for major border security reform, but we have to attach it to Ukraine,” he said. He added that a majority of Republicans in the upper chamber would support a “combination of border security, Ukraine funding and disaster aid”.

But Biden urged Republicans “to keep their word about support for Ukraine. They said they’re going to support Ukraine in a separate vote.”

“We cannot under any circumstance allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted,” Biden said on Sunday.

Much of the opposition to helping Kyiv is from radical House Republicans close to former president Donald Trump, who are already unhappy with McCarthy’s compromises with the White House on spending.

Among those is Matt Gaetz, the hardline Republican from Florida, who on Sunday said he would move to oust McCarthy as speaker this week for working with Democrats to avoid the shutdown. McCarthy said he was confident he would survive.

Alicia Kearns, a Conservative MP who chairs the foreign affairs select committee in the UK, conceded that “optically” the episode was a “win for Putin” but maintained she was “still reasonably confident of the US delivering everything we need of them”.

Biden in August asked Congress for an additional $24bn in funding for Ukraine, on top of the $113bn already approved since the start of Russia’s full-blown invasion. Officials have warned that any lapse in aid could have an adverse impact on the battlefield.

However, Ukraine officials appeared confident that there had been no material change in US support.

“Russia makes a mistake if it thinks it can ‘wait out’ military aid for Ukraine. Ukraine will only get stronger, and Russian aggression will fail,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said on Sunday.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko added that “support for Ukraine remains unwaveringly strong both in the US administration and in both parties and houses of the US Congress, and most importantly, among the American people”.

Zelenskyy said on Sunday: “I will uphold the reputation of the state in the diplomatic arena, ensure support for Ukraine, and the commitment of our international partners to our struggle.”

Tymofiy Mylovanov, president of the Kyiv School of Economics and an adviser to Zelenskyy’s administration, wrote on X, formerly Twitter:

“It is unlikely that anything will change in Ukraine in the short run, but the credibility of the message: ‘the US is with Ukraine as long as it takes’ is questioned if not gone,” he said.

Additional reporting by Guy Chazan in Berlin, Lucy Fisher in London, Javier Espinoza in Brussels and Christopher Miller in Kyiv

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