Moments after President Biden assured Volodymyr Zelensky that he could count on American support for as long as needed, the Ukrainian leader used the opportunity to speak not only to NATO allies but also to an audience thousands of miles away.
“I understand it’s all your money,” Mr. Zelensky said, directly addressing Americans. “You spend this money on our lives.”
Despite Mr. Biden’s repeated pledges to stand by Ukraine in its war against Russia, questions about the length of support among the American people and lawmakers hung over the summit of Western allies. Even as the US president made a long-term commitment, a group of far-right Republican lawmakers in Washington pushed legislation that would cut aid to Ukraine, exposing fractures in the Republican Party and raising doubts about its commitment should it seize the. White House next year.
The two GOP candidates leading in polls, Donald J. Trump and Ron DeSantis, have also expressed reservations about keeping the war as a priority for the United States, fueling concern among some Western allies and injecting the American election cycle as an important element in the Ukraine. prospects of victory.
At the NATO summit, Mr. Biden intended to address those doubts, vowing to continue rallying the alliance in support of Ukraine and speaking to his domestic audience back home, preparing Americans for a prolonged standoff with Russia. During a speech at Vilnius University, in the Lithuanian capital, he compared Ukraine’s difficulties with the struggle for freedom of the Cold War in Europe, a battle that had the overwhelming support of both the Democratic and Republican Parties.
“We will not budge,” Mr Biden said, a message echoed by most NATO leaders. “I mean that. Our commitment to Ukraine will not weaken.”
However, some leaders openly questioned how long Kyiv could count on robust US support.
Ukraine had to make military progress more or less “until the end of this year” because of the upcoming elections in the United States, President Petr Pavel of the Czech Republic warned on the first day of the summit. By next year, he suggested, there could also be “another decline in willingness to massively support Ukraine with more weapons.”
Ben Wallace, Britain’s defense minister, went so far as to “provide some caution” that Ukraine should express more appreciation to allies for sending tens of billions of dollars in aid to Kyiv.
“Sometimes you have to persuade lawmakers on the Hill in America,” Mr. Wallace said. “You have to persuade skeptical politicians in other countries that, you know, it’s worth it.”
(In a stern response to Mr. Wallace, Mr. Zelensky later told reporters, “He can write to me about how he wants to be thanked.”)
Even as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey expressed optimism about cooperation with the United States at future NATO summits, he joked about the uncertainty of future American leadership. “With the upcoming elections, I would also like to take this opportunity to wish you the best of luck,” Mr. Erdogan told Mr. Biden, prompting the US president to laugh and reassure him that he would meet him again in years to come. ahead
But the concerns expressed by those leaders seemed to have some basis, given Republican skepticism.
“I am of course concerned about the leadership,” said William Taylor, a former ambassador to Ukraine in the Bush and Obama administrations. “American leadership on this issue will be key, and it will need to continue to be bipartisan.”
Mr. Biden’s aides say they believe his ability to build support for Ukraine both domestically and abroad will be one of the lasting achievements of his presidency. He has sold himself as someone who can mend the divisions deepened by his rivals, and on the campaign trail he is expected to emphasize his consensus-building in the halls of Congress and on the global stage during what he described as an inflection point for the world
Turkey’s decision to lift a blockade on Sweden’s entry into NATO and Mr Zelensky’s declaration that the summit gave Ukraine a “significant security victory” are likely to help Mr Biden’s case. But many American voters remain unconvinced, particularly about his economic record, fueling his low approval numbers.
Over the past year, Mr. Biden has tried to frame the economic hardship that comes with helping Ukraine as a cost of defending democracy.
But some support among the public wavered at times as Americans faced rising consumer prices and Europeans grappled with an energy crisis after cutting their dependence on Russian gas.
The Consumer Price Index reported on Wednesday that US inflation cooled slightly in June, helping Mr Biden’s pitch. Federal Reserve officials are still assessing how long the trend will last. Consumer price inflation remains above the rate of increase from before the pandemic.
fresh Reuters-Ipsos survey found a sharp increase in support among the American public to help Ukraine’s effort to defend itself against Russia. The survey found that 81 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents favored supplying U.S. weapons to Ukraine. The poll also found that a large majority of Americans were more likely to support a presidential candidate who would continue to provide military aid to Kyiv.
“This is a good debate,” said Mr Taylor, the former ambassador. “The American people deserve to participate in the debate about the support for Ukraine and the opposition to the invasion of Russia.”
Mr. Taylor said he remains optimistic about Ukraine funding because both the Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress have expressed support and because the far-right proposals almost certainly will not pass the House.
Throughout the week, Mr. Biden and other US officials were intent only on ensuring unity in support of Ukraine – at the NATO summit and back home. When a Ukrainian activist pressed Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, about the U.S. administration’s reluctance to immediately invite Ukraine to join the alliance, Mr. Sullivan reminded her that the Biden administration had provided “a large amount of capacity” to Kiev.
He then summoned those within American borders. “The American people have been looking — watching and wanting to stand in solidarity with the brave and courageous people of Ukraine — to step up and deliver, and I think the American people deserve some gratitude from us,” he said.
And by describing the war as a choice between democracy and autocratic governments — a message he has espoused since the start of his presidency — Mr. Biden sought to convince voters to care about a fight on the other side of the globe.
“A choice between a world defined by coercion and exploitation, where power makes right,” said Mr. Biden, “or a world where we recognize that our own success is tied to the success of others.”