Early grumblings in Europe as help to Kyiv racks up big bills

24 September,2023 08:22 AM IST |  Warsaw  |  Agencies

The West has long been shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine against Russia

This picture shows trains with Ukrainian grain stored in wagons covered with white tarpaulin at the Polish-Ukrainian border. Pic/AFP

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Key Highlights

Once rock-solid, the support that Ukraine has gotten from its biggest backers for its fight against Russia is showing cracks. Political posturing in places like Poland and Slovakia, where a trade dispute with Ukraine has stirred tensions, and Republican reticence in the United States about Washington's big spending to prop up Ukraine's military have raised new uncertainties about the West's commitment to its efforts to expel Russian invaders more than 18 months into the war.

And Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hopes to outlast allied backing for Kyiv, will be ready to capitalise if he sees Ukraine is running low on air defence or other weapons. The West has long been shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine against Russia. But between Ukraine's impassioned, unending pleas for help, and huge handouts from its backers, signs of discord have emerged. In July, Britain's defence minister at the time said Ukraine should show "gratitude" to the West, after Kyiv renewed its vocal "but unsuccessful" push to join NATO.

This week, a new bout surfaced after Ukraine filed a complaint at the World Trade Organisation against three neighbours and European Union members - Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - for banning imports of Ukrainian farm products, a key export for the war-weary country's battered economy. The three bristled at the move, with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki shooting back that his country is "no longer transferring any weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming ourselves with the most modern weapons".

From Washington to Warsaw, where the military cost and capabilities of helping Ukraine are at issue, officials are playing down any talk of a rift. "I don't believe that one political dispute will lead to a breakdown," Polish President Andrzej Duda said, adding that his prime minister was only referring to newly ordered weapons that wouldn't ever go to Ukraine anyway.

Jake Sullivan, the Biden administration's national security adviser, said on Thursday he believed that "Poland will continue to be a supporter of Ukraine". Sen Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, after meeting with Zelenskyy on Thursday, acknowledged that "people are talking about how much money" is being spent. But, he added, "We're investing in democracy."

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