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Biden hears plea for long-term Ukraine policy

Biden hears plea for long-term Ukraine policy

Mike Brest

December 09, 02:30 AM December 09, 02:30 AM

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A former NATO head and a current top Ukrainian official are trying to get the White House’s ear for their plan to aid the Eastern European country after nearly a year of defense against Russian aggression.

Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently traveled to Washington to convince President Joe Biden’s administration and members of Congress to support a nascent international plan he’s putting forward with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak. Their goal is to get a commitment from leading members of NATO, which have a treaty obligation to protect each other in case of attack, to commit military help to Ukraine, a non-NATO member that Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

The Biden administration and the overwhelming majority of Congress have supported and remain committed to providing aid to Ukraine as Russia’s war continues. But Ukrainian officials are looking to codify that assistance and ensure that their allies’ aid will help them rebuild their country and build up their own forces to prevent future invasions, which was a key point of Rasmussen’s late November visit. (Rasmussen was the secretary-general of NATO from 2009 to 2014 and was the prime minister of Denmark for the eight years immediately prior.)

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Rasmussen told the Washington Examiner that he and Yermak are pushing the Kyiv Security Compact, with the goal of getting it signed off by the end of the year from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Under the Kyiv Security Compact, Rasmussen said, Ukraine’s allies would help build a stronger military in the Eastern European nation of nearly 44 million people. Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula in the southern part of Ukraine in 2014.

Advocates of the Kyiv Security Compact also want to enhance intelligence cooperation between Ukraine and its allies while also starting joint training exercises between Ukraine and NATO allies. Another key element of the proposal looks beyond the current war’s end, with the aim of helping Ukraine build a strong defense industrial base.

Yermak and Rasmussen unveiled the plan in mid-September, and the former described it as a way to ensure that Russia will not be able to impose its will on its smaller neighbor moving forward. The proposal, an unusual collaboration between a former public official and a current one, would build on and formalize many of the actions and agreements that have been undertaken between Ukraine and leading NATO members since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion last winter.

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The Biden administration has offered “positive messages on the Kyiv Security Compact,” Rasmussen said. That’s similar to reactions from British officials in London, he added. Rasmussen also now is trying to set up meetings with German and French officials.

“If those four countries, the U.S., U.K., Germany, and France, would sign something along the lines of the Kyiv Security Compact, we have really come a long way,” Rasmussen said. “The idea would be to invite an international group of guarantors, which normally would be the four countries, but also Poland, Turkey, just to mention some of them.”

The former NATO chief met with administration officials, as well as lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who is leaving his leadership post when House Republicans take control of the chamber on Jan. 3. Rasmussen also met with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), one of the more hawkish lawmakers on Ukraine on his side of the Capitol.

A spokesperson for Biden’s National Security Council, in a statement to the Washington Examiner, did not specifically mention the Kyiv Security Compact but affirmed the administration’s long-term commitment to aiding Ukraine.

President Joe Biden and his counterparts in the Group of Seven have already committed to working “together with interested countries and institutions and Ukraine on sustained security commitments to help Ukraine defend itself, secure its free and democratic future, and deter future Russian aggression,” the spokesperson said.

The leaders have also announced their work to “meet Ukraine’s urgent requirements for military and defense equipment, as well as to provide Ukraine with the material, training and logistic, intelligence, and economic support to build up its armed forces,” the spokesperson said. “This assistance could include further strengthening Ukraine’s resilience by expanding our cooperation in intelligence and information sharing as well as maritime, cyber, and energy security.”

Nonetheless, Rasmussen said he left “Washington quite optimistic about a continuation of the support for Ukraine,” though voices of populist skepticism about continued aid to Ukraine, and foreign assistance in general, have grown louder.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), alongside several other Republican House members, introduced a resolution in mid-November to audit the money the Biden administration sent to Ukraine between Jan. 20, 2021, the day President Joe Biden took office, and Nov. 15 of this year. McCarthy made headlines this fall when he said that a Republican majority would not provide Ukraine with a “blank check,” though other Republicans later clarified that their concerns were more about unrelated spending items in Ukraine-targeted aid bills enacted by Biden and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

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Meanwhile, 30 House Progressive Caucus members sent a message to Biden, requesting him to negotiate with Russia in order to stop the war. The White House has said repeatedly that Kyiv will lead any diplomatic attempts to end the war and that the U.S. would follow its lead. The publication of the letter led to an outcry among the Democrats, and several people who had signed the letter said they no longer endorsed it.

Nonetheless, both episodes show at least some skepticism of continued Ukraine aid.

“I was assured that apart from extreme minorities in both parties, you have a left-wing part of the Democratic Party that has expressed skepticism about support for Ukraine, as well as a rival minority in the Republican Party that is equally, similarly skeptical,” Rasmussen said. “But apart from those two minorities, there seems to be broad bipartisan support for a continuation of our assistance to Ukraine.”

While the former NATO leader and Danish prime minister shared his optimism about the long-term commitment from allies, he believes the U.S. should be open to providing Ukraine with military aid that it has previously ruled out sending.

“The Ukrainians need desperately air defense, missile defense, anti-drone capabilities to defend themselves against the Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure,” he said. “They need tanks, heavy tanks, to gain further ground on the battlefield. I don’t understand why, for instance, we have made restrictions on the range of missiles. Why? I think it could serve as a potent deterrent against the Russian attacks.”

U.S. officials, as Rasmussen noted, have declined to provide Ukraine with long-range missiles that would provide Kyiv with the ability to strike Russian territory. But he believes that Russia’s recent targeting of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure amounts to an escalation in the war that the U.S. and its allies need to counter.

“Since the 10th of October, [Putin] changed strategies, partly to cover his defeat in Kharkiv and Kherson. He has adopted a new strategy by targeting civilian infrastructure in the woods, etc. He’s really terrorizing the Ukrainian population, hoping to break down the morale of the Ukrainian people,” Rasmussen said. “We have not adjusted our strategy to that change and that escalation.”

World leaders have accused Russian forces of weaponizing winter, alleging that the targeting of Ukraine’s energy grid (which has led to blackouts and the loss of heat and running water for millions of civilians) is tantamount to a war crime.

A senior American defense official told reporters last week that “all the capabilities are on the table” as it relates to the weapons the U.S. could provide to Ukraine.

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