Tuesday, July 16, 2024

War in Ukraine ‘is Europe’s problem’, Trump ally says

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  • Comments come amid fears that Trump would scale back support for Ukraine 



The war in Ukraine is ‘Europe’s problem’ to solve and Britain must stop ‘haranguing’ the White House to help, a top US defence and security official declared yesterday as Western leaders met in Washington for NATO‘s 75th-anniversary summit.

Elbridge Colby, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development, said: ‘The biggest thing on the agenda with European states should be: are you taking primary responsibility for the conventional defence of NATO in Europe?’

The military strategist, who is widely tipped for a top position in the administration should Trump emerge victorious from November elections, also told Sir Keir Starmer he should focus on a ‘British first’ approach to defence, and leave the US to deal with China.

‘You guys have got to take care of your own situation better because we have to focus on China,’ he said, adding that there is ‘very little the British military can realistically do at this time in the Pacific’.

Colby’s comments, made in an interview with the Telegraph yesterday, come amid fears that the US would significantly scale back its military aid to Ukraine should Trump succeed in securing a second term in the White House.

Emergency and rescue personnel along with medics and others clear the rubble of the destroyed building of Ohmatdyt Children’s Hospital following a Russian missile attack in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on July 8, 2024
Rescuers carry the body of a person found under debris at the site where an apartment building was hit by a Russian missile strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine July 9, 2024
Former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures as he speaks during a rally in Doral, Florida, on July 9, 2024
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky answers questions after delivering remarks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute as leaders from all member NATO states gather for the 75th NATO Summit on July 9, 2024 in Washington
NATO leaders pose for a family photo before President Joe Biden, front row center, delivers remarks on the 75th anniversary of NATO at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in Washington
Elbridge Colby, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development, said the war in Ukraine is ‘Europe’s problem’

Kicking off the three-day NATO 75th anniversary summit yesterday, US President Joe Biden announced a new air defence system for Kyiv and urged unity against Vladimir Putin, who launched the Ukraine invasion in 2022.

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Biden promised to send Kyiv an additional Patriot system, on top of two new systems being given by Germany and Romania and one which the Netherlands has said it is putting together with parts from other allies.

Underscoring Ukraine’s desperate need for such systems, Russia fired a barrage of missiles on the eve of the summit that killed dozens of people across the country, including in Kyiv where a children’s hospital was reduced to debris.

‘Make no mistake. Ukraine can – and will – stop Putin,’ Biden said forcefully to applause.

But the US president himself is facing a tough election challenge from Donald Trump, who has loudly questioned the utility of NATO and previously said he would be able to ‘end the war in 24 hours’ if he were in charge.

The comments sparked fears that Washington would quickly withdraw its military support for Ukraine and seek to force Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to accept a peace deal that would see large swathes of territory ceded to Moscow. 

Earlier this year, Trump’s Republican allies in the US Congress also forced a delay of months in approving new weapons for Ukraine.

The notion is not lost on NATO leaders, with outgoing Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg acknowledging the question marks over ongoing US support.

‘Ukraine has shown remarkable courage and NATO allies have provided unprecedented support. But let’s be honest – not even our support for Ukraine has been a given,’ Stoltenberg said.

‘Remember – the biggest cost and the greatest risk will be if Russia wins in Ukraine. We cannot let that happen.’ 

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Trump National Doral Golf Club on July 09, 2024 in Doral, Florida
Emergency workers respond at the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital hit by Russian missiles, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, July 8, 2024
Volunteers, including medics, help emergency and rescue personnel to clear the rubble of a destroyed building at Ohmatdyt Children’s Hospital following a Russian missile attack in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on July 8, 2024
Rescue workers take part in a response effort to Russia’s attack on the Ohmatdyt National Specialised Children’s Hospital with a Kh-101 strategic cruise missile
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks during the NATO’s 75th Anniversary Commemoration event at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington DC., United States on July 09, 2024
British Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer talks to journalists as he travels onboard a plane to Washington DC to attend a NATO summit on July 9, 2024
A musical performance is played during a NATO 75th anniversary celebratory event at the Andrew Mellon Auditorium on July 9, 2024 in Washington

Given the prospect of a Trump presidency, European NATO states face shouldering a greater burden as part of a drive to ‘Trump proof’ the alliance.

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Sir Keir Starmer, whose attendance at this week’s summit comes less than a week after he became British Prime Minister, was repeatedly pressed by reporters in Washington yesterday on whether the goal of spending 2.5% of GDP on defence would be reached within his first term.

He said the Labour government was ‘committed to the 2.5%’ and said that a strategic review of the defence budget will be held next week after the summit is concluded. 

‘The manifesto commitment was that it would take place within a year, I would like it to be quicker than that if I’m honest and we’ll set out the details about how we are going to do it.’

NATO members have an official goal of spending 2% of GDP on defence and 23 members are now thought to have reached that level.

But in the context of this year’s US election and the drive to ‘Trump proof’ the security alliance, Sir Keir acknowledged more needed to be done to lock in support for Ukraine.

He also indicated the UK is working with NATO partners to hash out a new financial package, military aid and an industrial strategy to support Ukraine.

Burnt-out cars are pictured at a five-storey apartment block in the Holosiivskyi district destroyed by the Russian missile attack on Kyi
Emergency and rescue personnel along with medics and others clear the rubble of the destroyed building of Ohmatdyt Children’s Hospital following a Russian missile attack in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on July 8, 2024
Ukrainian families take shelter during an alarm in the basement of a heavily damaged building at Ohmatdyt Children’s Hospital following a Russian missile attack in Kyiv on July 8, 2024
A man washes his face during a response effort at the Ohmatdyt National Specialized Children’s Hospital
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers remarks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute as leaders from all member NATO states gather for the 75th NATO Summit on July 9, 2024

Zelensky, who was invited to attend the NATO summit by Biden, yesterday thanked Ukraine’s backers for the promise of new air defences and urged the United States and others to go further to help defeat Russia. 

But he is also in Washington to seek firm assurances that his nation will one day be able to join the security alliance. 

Ukraine’s membership bid enjoys wide backing from Baltic and Eastern European nations still haunted by decades under the Soviet yoke and fearful of the prospect of more Russian aggression on their borders. 

But Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have led opposition, concerned that the accession of Ukraine to the alliance would effectively compel other NATO countries to join the war with nuclear-armed Russia.

Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur said negotiations were ongoing on the final language for the roadmap to NATO membership for Ukraine, adding that he was hopeful the world ‘irreversible’ would be involved.

But US officials are seeking to play down expectations, speaking of creating a ‘bridge’ to future membership while making it clear that the prospect of a quick entry is not on the cards. 

Putin has repeatedly accused the West of antagonising Russia by entertaining NATO membership for Ukraine.

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