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Blinken Visits Europe: Two Issues Dominated.

The future of Ukraine and America’s prominence in European support could change.

From April 1 to April 5, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Europe for the NATO ministerial meetings and European Union discussions in Brussels. During the secretary’s trip, he stopped off in Paris to discuss with French President Emmanuel Macron Israel’s defensive war against Iran-backed Hamas in Gaza and the deteriorating mess in Haiti. However, in terms of the US relationship with NATO and the EU (European Union), two topics took center stage.

Blinken on the Road Again

Secretary Blinken has been on the road a lot lately, attempting to establish the US position on the myriad issues facing the West. Funding for the continuing Ukraine struggle against the Russian invaders and the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine will have a lasting impact on the geopolitical future of Europe and America’s prominence or lack of it in the near term. Most recently, the thorny issue of the US Congress not jumping on the bandwagon with a supplemental appropriations bill of $60 billion for Ukraine has raised the hackles of NATO members. Several emissaries from the Alliance and Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, have come to the US to persuade congressional members to expedite the desperately needed funding.

The level of concern by Alliance members regarding the slowness of US funding has prompted a welcomed initiative. According to Reuters:

“NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg has proposed a 100 billion euro ($107 billion), five-year package of military aid to Ukraine that would give the Western Alliance a more direct role in providing support to Kyiv, five diplomats said on Tuesday. Under the plan, NATO would take over some coordination work from a US-led ad-hoc coalition known as the Ramstein group – a step designed in part to guard against any cut in US support if Donald Trump returns to the White House, diplomats said.”

Stoltenberg is the outgoing NATO secretary general and has been a strong advocate for Alliance members taking responsibility for funding their security. Two takeaways from the Reuters observation are that Stoltenberg’s proposal reduces the US influence over how the funding would be spent and that, despite not being in the White House, former President Donald Trump would have accomplished what the current White House resident has failed at. NATO would institutionalize its funding responsibility for aiding Kyiv in defeating Russia. Trump aimed to prompt NATO members to do more to pay for their defense. If Stoltenberg’s proposal is adopted, Trump’s goal is accomplished.

Not everyone is on board totally with the 100-billion-euro fund and a reduced direct role by the US in how the money is allocated. “John Kirby, White House national security communications adviser, raised doubts about having the US step aside from leading the Ramstein group, a once-a-month meeting of 50-plus nations coordinating weapons deliveries for Ukraine,” Laura Kelly wrote for The Hill. Having met in person or virtually every month since February 2022, Kelly observed, “The meeting is viewed as a critical venue to coordinate what Ukraine needs, which countries can deliver materials, and discussions over battlefield tactics and operations.” Kirby is saying that the Biden administration does not want to give up primacy in determining how assistance is parsed to the Kyiv government as well as being able to exert influence over how the war is being fought.

With the American public and Congress’s growing reluctance to throw taxpayer dollars at support for Ukrainian forces without some strategy for winning, European allies see a need to take more control over the direction of the conflict on the ground and how the money is spent in Ukraine. You will recall not long after the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Poland, a NATO member, offered to provide surplus M-29 fighter aircraft to Ukraine to replace combat losses. Biden’s national security team nixed it. This level of control by the US, combined with Biden’s lack of leadership in convincing Congress to pass a Ukraine spending bill, is prompting Europeans to look for options that are not dependent on the US.

Growing Support for Ukraine NATO Membership

The other significant outcome of Secretary Blinken’s trip was a much more positive statement of support for Ukraine becoming a NATO member soon. During a press conference following meetings marking the 75-year milestone of the founding of NATO, Blinken talked about Ukraine making strides toward fulfilling the requirements for NATO membership. He said:

“We reaffirmed that Ukraine’s future is in NATO. Our goal now is to create a bridge to Ukraine’s full membership, offering additional support and greater cooperation, as Ukraine makes the reforms necessary to join the Alliance…It pushed Russia’s fleet back from the Black Sea, opening up shipping lanes to get grain to the world, and in fact exports through the Black Sea now equal or exceed exports before the Russian aggression in February of 2022.”

Blinken told the reporters that further discussion of increasing support for Ukraine and coming up with “concrete outcomes” would be the agenda for the July Washington NATO Summit. Despite the strong sentiments by Blinken about the prospects of Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance, with Russian President Putin’s persistent warnings against such a move, Ukraine’s seat at the NATO table remains aspirational. Europe’s intention to assume more responsibility for establishing a predictable and sufficient fund for Ukraine may be the best that can be accomplished. If this takes place without the US in charge, that might be a good thing.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliate.

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