EU takes swing at US, approves $54bln in new aid for Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expresses hope that the decision would be a “signal” for US President Joe Biden.

  • Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, right, talks to Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP)

European Union leaders unanimously decided to extend 50 billion euros ($54 billion) in additional funding to Ukraine on Thursday.

The accord overcame weeks of pushback from Hungary and comes amid uncertainties about the future of US funding. Kiev is highly reliant on Western help as the war enters its third year.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed hope that the decision would be a “signal” for US President Joe Biden “who is working hard to win support for his demands from the Congress.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the news after he cautioned on Sunday that a reduction in aid from the United States to Kiev would convey a “negative message“, highlighting the challenges faced by US President Joe Biden amid a Republican blockade on additional support.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the news sends a “clear message” to Russia not to “count on any fatigue from the Europeans in their support to Ukraine.”

On Thursday, Orban finally agreed to the aid after getting guarantees that the help would be utilized wisely and would not come from EU money set aside for Budapest from the bloc’s shared coffers.

The EU executive is withholding about 20 billion euros from Hungary due to numerous allegations that Orban has harmed domestic democracy during his 13 years in office.

Diplomats told Reuters that, in exchange for Hungary’s approval, the EU agreed not to release any of its billions of euros in subsidies unless Budapest met certain requirements.

They stated that the agreement includes an annual discussion of the package and the possibility to reconsider it in two years “if needed,” but with no outright veto from Budapest.

Orban has had several tense encounters with the EU on Hungary’s rule of law, and he has increasingly criticized Western sanctions against Russia and established deeper relations with the Kremlin than his EU counterparts.

According to a German source, Orban was “uncomfortable” at the meeting over his rising isolation inside the bloc.

The summit also declined to endorse certain nations’ request to deposit 5 billion euros for Ukraine into a larger military aid fund, the European Peace Facility (EPF), in addition to the 50 billion euros previously agreed upon.

Germany has been asking for significant reform of the mechanism to account for EU countries’ bilateral military aid to Ukraine, and Scholz stated after the meeting that Germany, the EU’s paymaster, cannot oversee military support alone.

NATO eyeing ‘military Schengen’ for personnel, equipment exchange

Efforts are being made to establish a system of “military Schengen” across Europe, aiming to circumvent intricate regulations that currently limit the exchange of equipment and personnel among NATO nations, The Times reported on Sunday.
In November, Lieutenant-General Alexander Sollfrank, NATO’s European logistics chief, encouraged countries in the region to create zones that would facilitate the swift movement of troops and ammunition in the event of a significant conflict with Russia.

The notion of establishing “military corridors” has been discussed by military leaders for years, and according to The Times, current talks on creating these corridors are in progress, with potential announcements expected before NATO’s next summit in July.

The complex set of regulations in the EU that hampers the exchange and transportation of military equipment has posed a significant challenge for NATO planners, as per The Times.

”Cross-border exercises frequently involve dizzying quantities of paperwork that would cost critical time in a military crisis,” it added.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, on January 20, warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin could pull an attack on a NATO country “within 5-8 years.”

“We hear threats from the Kremlin almost every day … so we have to take into account that Vladimir Putin might even attack a NATO country one day,” Pistorius said in an interview for the Berlin-based Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.

The Minister added that even though a “Russian attack is not likely for now… our experts expect a period of five to eight years in which this could be possible.” 

Pistorius’ comments align with warnings from Sweden’s Minister for Civil Defense, Carl-Oskar Bohlin, who last week cautioned that “war could come to Sweden.”

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