Europeans cheer US aid to Ukraine; but fear the future 

Most NATO members have watched with growing alarm as Putin repeats his intent to reconstitute the Russian (read: former Soviet) empire and crushes the Ukrainian language, culture, and religion in occupied areas of Ukraine.

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Columnists

April 29, 2024 - 3:25 PM

Ukrainian servicemen in the Donetsk region, on Feb. 23, 2024, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

BRUSSELS — On April 19, I watched an audience of European and American political officials and strategic experts pay rapt attention as U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy told them Congress would enact a Ukraine aid package that weekend. Minutes later, the attendees at the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum broke into cheers at the news that the House legislation had cleared an initial hurdle on its way to approval the next day.

Their emotional response was testimony to the criticality of tight cooperation between the United States and its European allies if Vladimir Putin’s Russia is to be pushed back from Ukraine.

Yet, several days spent in Brussels, including at NATO headquarters, underscored two basic facts: First, Europe (and Ukraine) cannot withstand Russian aggression alone without U.S. leadership and continued aid to Kyiv. And — this can’t be repeated enough — Putin’s aggression against Ukraine is not just a security threat to Europe. It is also a threat to the United States.

Most NATO members, especially former satellite states of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, have watched with growing alarm as Putin repeats his intent to reconstitute the Russian (read: former Soviet) empire and crushes the Ukrainian language, culture, and religion in occupied areas of Ukraine.

That alarm has intensified as Russia has used disinformation campaigns to interfere in European elections and promote far-right leaders more sympathetic to Moscow. Russian missiles have already violated the air space of NATO members Poland and Romania as they target defenseless Ukrainian civilian infrastructure.

Europeans have stepped up dramatically since the Russian invasion to increase their defense budgets and help Ukraine. Donald Trump’s claim last week on Truth Social that “the United States is over $100 Billion Dollars into the Ukraine War more than Europe” is utterly false. So is his isolationist stance that “we have an ocean between us as separation.”

European nations had committed more than double the amount of aid the U.S. sent to Kyiv prior to the new $60 billion U.S. package, and they are still in the lead. NATO members are creating coalitions to produce or buy weapons that are urgently needed.

For example, former Latvian Defense Minister Imants Lieģis told the forum his nation was part of a 10-country drone coalition, led by the United Kingdom, to urgently provide first-person view drones that are now key to the battlefield. “But we are also looking at the long term, where we see lessons learned from the Ukraine war,” he said. One key lesson is that the new mode of war is technological, with drones and electronic warfare, so the coalition is encouraging young innovators and trying to ease procurement rules.

Other European groupings are working on finding ammo and air defenses for Ukraine. But individual European nations — even as they push to increase their defense spending and production and integrate their efforts — cannot match the economic heft of the United States, or many of the advanced weapon systems we produce.

“This is a joint endeavor,” I was told by the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith. “The Europeans can provide a lot, but the United States needs to lead.”

Moreover, the Europeans recognize what U.S. isolationists don’t: This era of technological warfare, in which a vengeful Putin is helped by China, Iran, and North Korea, makes an ocean’s protection moot. Think nukes in space, and satellite and information warfare.

“The U.S. population has to understand history,” argued Howard Buffett, farmer, businessman, and son of businessman-philanthropist Warren Buffett. His Howard G. Buffett Foundation has partnered with the German Marshall Fund to conduct a series of whistle-stops across America’s agricultural heartland to drum up support for Ukraine.

You have to understand what Putin has done in his lifetime. Invade Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014, Syria in 2015. He has already told the world what he is going to do. If you don’t challenge Putin, you will embolden him, because he thinks we are weak.Howard Buffett, farmer, businessman and son of Warren Buffett

“You have to understand what Putin has done in his lifetime,” Buffett said. “Invade Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014, Syria [in partnership with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad] in 2015. He has already told the world what he is going to do.” Added German Marshall Fund president Heather Conley: “If you don’t challenge Putin, you will embolden him, because he thinks we are weak.”

WHICH BRINGS US to the frisson of unease that continued to rattle forum attendees and dominate many discussions: Although the passage of the Ukraine aid package undermined Putin’s belief that America had abandoned Kyiv, can the United States be trusted to continue aiding Ukraine after 2024?

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