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Biden calls western leaders to reassure allies on Ukraine aid

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President Joe Biden hosted a call with western leaders to co-ordinate assistance for Ukraine on Tuesday following a compromise to keep the US government open in a deal that excluded more aid for Kyiv.

The call appeared to be aimed at reassuring jittery allies as Ukraine tries to gain some advantage in a fight that looks increasingly like a stalemate and as Kyiv prepares for another challenging winter. 

The Biden administration is pressing Congress to hold another vote soon on additional funds for Ukraine but infighting on Capitol Hill and uncertainty over Republican Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy’s grip on power have put immediate additional assistance in doubt.

The White House would announce another lethal aid package for Ukraine soon, officials said, but they added that Congress would need to vote soon.

“We cannot under any circumstances allow America’s support for Ukraine to be interrupted. Time is not our friend,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday. The Pentagon had about $5bn left in authorised funds, but this was only enough to meet Ukraine’s needs “a little longer”, Kirby said.

He added: “A lapse in support for even a short period of time can make all the difference on the battlefield. Just as critically, such a lapse in support will make [Russian president Vladimir] Putin believe that he can wait us out.”

Kirby said it was clear from the call “that the world is watching”, adding that Biden had told other leaders that he was confident of future bipartisan support for Ukraine.

Included on the call were leaders from Canada, Italy, Japan, Poland, Romania, the UK, France, Nato, the European Commission and the European Council.

Biden “reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes”, according to a White House account of the call which said other leaders had “echoed their commitments”.

The participants discussed providing Ukraine with necessary ammunition and weapons, strengthening its air defences and preparing to repair Ukrainian energy infrastructure during the winter, the White House said. Additionally the leaders are working to bring in new donors for the country’s economic recovery.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said it was a “good phone call” and added that Europe’s support for Ukraine was “unwavering”. She said she had proposed €50bn in macro-financial assistance for Ukraine, pledged 1mn rounds of ammunition to be delivered by March 2024 and promised the EU would take action to ensure “full accountability for Russian crimes against Ukrainians”.

A statement from the German chancellery said the call had focused on “the fixed conviction of all participants that we must support Ukraine in its defensive fight against Russian aggression for as long as is necessary”.

As Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited his troops in north-eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, an adviser in his administration called on Kyiv’s western allies to “call a spade a spade”.

“You (our partners) also badly need Ukraine to have artillery shells, long-range missiles and air defence systems,” Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Because this is about existence, about . . . what is cheaper . . . to stop Russia now or to wait until Russia’s bloodthirsty ambitions grow significantly,” he added.

Zelenskyy said in his evening address to the nation that he had discussed “weapons and supplies” with troops on the front lines earlier in the day.

“In the coming weeks, we will be working very actively with our partners to ensure that our warriors have more weapons and ammunition, particularly air defence — this is most important,” he added.

“In 2024, Russia is planning to increase its invasion budget by 68 per cent,” Olena Halushka, co-founder of the International Center for Ukrainian Victory, told the Warsaw Security Forum on Tuesday, in an apparent reference to Moscow’s defence spending plans.

“If the west is serious about defending and helping Ukraine to be saved as a sovereign state, it is incredibly important to make sure that we have sufficient resources to win this war fast,” she added.

Additional reporting by Christopher Miller in Kyiv, Henry Foy in Brussels, Roman Olearchyk in Kyiv and Guy Chazan in Berlin

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