Moments after President Biden assured Volodymyr Zelensky that he could count on America’s support for as long as it took, the Ukrainian leader took the opportunity to address not only NATO allies but also an audience of thousands of kilometers away.
“I understand it’s all your money,” Zelensky said, addressing the Americans directly. “Spend this money for our lives.”
Despite Biden’s repeated promises to stand by Ukraine’s side in its war against Russia, questions about the lifespan of support among the American people and lawmakers loomed over the summit of Western allies. Even as the US president was committing himself to the long term, a group of far-right Republican lawmakers in Washington pushed legislation that would cut aid to Ukraine, exposing fractures in the GOP and raising questions about his commitment in the event that he would capture the White House the next year.
The two leading Republican candidates in the polls, Donald J. Trump and Ron DeSantis, also expressed reservations about keeping the war a US priority, fueling concern among some Western allies and injecting the US election cycle into Ukraine. . prospects of victory.
At the NATO summit, Biden intended to address those doubts, vowing to continue rallying the alliance in support of Ukraine and speaking to his national audience at home, preparing Americans for a protracted showdown with Russia. During a speech at Vilnius University in the Lithuanian capital, he compared Ukraine’s plight to the fight for freedom in Europe during the Cold War, a fight that was overwhelmingly supported by both the Democratic and Republican parties.
“We will not waver,” Biden said, a message echoed by most NATO leaders. “I want to say that. Our commitment to Ukraine will not weaken.”
Still, some leaders openly questioned how long kyiv could count on solid US support.
Ukraine needed to make military progress more or less “by the end of this year” because of upcoming US elections, Czech President Petr Pavel warned on the first day of the summit. By next year, he suggested, there could also be “another decline in the willingness to massively support Ukraine with more weapons.”
Ben Wallace, Britain’s defense minister, even went so far as to “give a little warning” that Ukraine should express more appreciation to the allies for sending tens of billions of dollars in aid to Kiev.
“Sometimes you have to persuade lawmakers in the United States Capitol,” Wallace said. “You have to persuade doubting 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 collaborating with the United States at future NATO summits, he joked about the uncertainty of future US leadership. “With the upcoming elections, I would also like to take this opportunity to wish him the best of luck,” Erdogan told Biden, prompting the American president to laugh and assure him that he would see him again in years to come. forward.
But the concerns expressed by those leaders seemed to have some basis, given Republican skepticism.
“Of course I’m worried 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 have to remain bipartisan.”
Biden aides say they believe his ability to build support for Ukraine both at home 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 world stage during what he has described as a turning point. turning point for the world.
Turkey’s decision to end the blockade of Sweden’s NATO entry and Zelensky’s statement that the summit had given Ukraine a “significant security victory” will likely help Biden’s case. But many American voters remain unconvinced, particularly about his economic record, fueling his low approval ratings.
Over the past year, Biden has tried to frame the economic hardship of helping Ukraine as a cost of defending democracy.
But some support among the public has wavered at times as Americans faced sky-high consumer prices and Europeans grappled with an energy crisis after reducing their dependence on Russian gas.
The Consumer Price Index reported on Wednesday that US inflation had cooled slightly in June, helping Biden’s argument. However, Federal Reserve officials are still evaluating how long the trend will last. Consumer price increases remain above the pre-pandemic rate of increase.
a recent Reuters-Ipsos poll found a sharp rise in support among the American public for aiding Ukraine’s effort to fend off Russia. The poll found that 81 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents favored supplying Ukraine with US weapons. 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 Taylor, the former ambassador. “The American people deserve to be involved in the debate about supporting Ukraine and opposing Russia’s invasion.”
Taylor said he remained optimistic about Ukraine funding as both Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress have voiced their support and because proposals from the far-right flank will almost certainly not pass the House.
Throughout the week, Biden and other US officials have been intent on ensuring unity in support of Ukraine, at the NATO summit and at home. When a Ukrainian activist pressed Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, about the US administration’s reluctance to invite Ukraine to join the alliance immediately, Sullivan reminded him that the Biden administration had provided “a tremendous amount of capacity” to Kiev.
He then invoked those within the American borders. “The American people have sought, by 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 a degree of gratitude from us,” he said.
And by portraying the war as a choice between democracy and autocratic governments, a message he has relied on since the start of his presidency, Biden tried to convince voters that they should worry about a battle on the other side of the world.
“A choice between a world defined by coercion and exploitation, where power proves right,” Biden said, “or a world where we recognize that our own success is tied to the success of others.”