Friday, May 24, 2024

Zelensky says working on getting long-term assistance package from US

The latest US aid package for Kiev, which was only approved by the US Congress after more than six months of partisan feuding, might be small potatoes compared to what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has in mind for his biggest benefactor.

Kiev is negotiating with the administration of US President Joe Biden on a long-term agreement that would put Washington on the hook to provide Ukraine with military, economic, and political support for the next decade, Zelensky said on Sunday in his daily video address.

Such commitments are needed to ensure Ukraine has the “efficiency in assistance” it needs to stem recent battlefield advances by Russian forces and gain the upper hand, he added.

“We are working to commit to paper concrete levels of support for this year and for the next ten years,” Zelensky stated.

“It will include military, financial, and political support, as well as what concerns joint production of weapons.”

Ukraine has already signed bilateral security agreements with several NATO members, including the UK, Germany, and France. Zelensky said he wants the long-term deal under negotiation with Washington to be the strongest pact yet.

However, Ukraine’s bilateral agreements with Western countries so far have stopped short of mutual-defense commitments. The deals merely pledge long-term aid, including support in the event of a future attack, and they are not legally binding. The agreement with Berlin, for instance, can be terminated with six months’ notice.

Zelensky added he wants Ukraine’s bilateral pact with Washington to include specific levels of aid.

“The agreement should be truly exemplary and reflect the strength of American leadership,” he continued.

US lawmakers approved $61 billion in additional aid for Ukraine earlier this month, after House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) overrode opposition in his own party to pass the bill with unanimous Democrat support. The Biden administration ran out of funding for Ukraine aid earlier this year, after using up $113 billion in previously approved assistance packages.

Republican lawmakers have argued that Biden is merely prolonging the bloodshed in Ukraine without offering a clear strategy for victory or a peace deal with Russia. A poll released in February showed that nearly 70% of Americans want Biden to push for a negotiated settlement with Moscow, involving compromises on both sides, rather than continuing to fund the conflict.

Zelensky also said Kiev has fulfilled every requirement the EU has set out for it, and is ready to begin accession talks, demanding that the bloc now follows through.

Kiev made a formal request to join the EU in February 2022 and was granted candidate status in June of the same year. In December 2023, EU officials agreed to open accession negotiations, setting out a number of steps for Kiev to take first in preparation.

All these steps have been completed, Zelensky claimed, promising that this is the year to achieve “results with the European Union.”

“Ukraine has fulfilled all the necessary conditions for the real start of the accession negotiations, and now the EU side must fulfill its obligations,” Zelensky insisted.

The EU’s accession criteria include stable democratic institutions, the rule of law, protection of human rights and minorities, along with a robust market economy and the institutional capacity to cope with the responsibilities of being an EU member state.

One of the key issues is widespread corruption in Ukraine. Amid a string of high-level scandals, lawmakers from the country’s biggest backer – the US – have expressed concerns about their aid being misused. Last month, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry announced plans to introduce a new logistics planning department, after several high-ranking military officials were arrested for embezzlement in the months before.

Kiev is currently preparing for a so-called peace conference set to take place in Switzerland this June, Zelensky added.

“The world majority must force Russia into peace – and it can do this.”

Moscow has not been invited to participate, and has dismissed the conference as “nonsense”. President Vladimir Putin reiterated earlier this month that Russia has not rejected a peaceful solution to the conflict, but would not accept a deal that ignore the country’s interests.

Kiev is also gearing up for aNATO summit scheduled for this summer, according to the Ukrainian president. The US-led military bloc “should not be afraid of its own strength or shy away from its own foundations,” he said, calling for a “strong political signal”.

Ukraine’s ambition to join NATO – a goal enshrined in its constitution – was one of the key reasons for Russia’s military operation against Kiev, Moscow has stated. One of Russia’s major goals in the conflict is Ukrainian neutrality, Putin has said.

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