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NATO leaders try to pin down US on Ukraine aid as Republicans waver

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström (right) talked with Portuguese Foreign Minister João Gomes Cravinho before the start of the second meeting of the North Atlantic Council of foreign ministers at NATO headquarters on Tuesday.Omar Havana/Getty

BRUSSELS — With Republicans in Congress stalling on granting Ukraine more military aid, NATO’s top diplomat warned Tuesday that it would be “dangerous” to curtail support to the war as member countries tried to pin down the United States on its commitments to Ukraine and as the conflict in the Gaza Strip saps Washington’s attention.

As foreign ministers gathered Tuesday at the military alliance’s headquarters, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that Ukraine would remain a top priority. He predicted that US assistance would continue — not only to protect US security interests but also because it’s “what we have agreed.”

“It’s our obligation to ensure that we provide Ukraine with the weapons they need, because it will be a tragedy for Ukrainians if President Putin wins,” Stoltenberg told journalists in Brussels at the start of two days of meetings of the military alliance. “It will also be dangerous for us.”

“The challenge now is that we need to sustain the support,” Stoltenberg said. He added, “We just have to stay the course.”

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The plea for continued military assistance for Ukraine came as several European states announced they would boycott an upcoming summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe because it would include Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Russia is a member of the organization, but the foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania said its planned attendance this week belied its “war of aggression and atrocities against its sovereign and peaceful neighbor Ukraine.”

Ukraine said it would also boycott that meeting in Skopje, North Macedonia. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to attend, as is Josep Borrell, the European Union’s chief diplomat.

“We have to go, we are members of this organization, and we have to present our views and counter the views of Russia,” Borrell said Tuesday at a separate meeting in Brussels with Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba. State Department officials have given no indication that Blinken wants or expects to have contact with Lavrov, whom he last met in a brief encounter on the sidelines of a Group of 20 meeting in March.

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At NATO, Blinken tried to assuage concerns about dwindling US support for Ukraine. A White House proposal to send Ukraine about $61.4 billion in additional emergency aid — out of an overall $105 billion plan — has stalled in the Republican-led House. That has left the United States with less than $5 billion available to contribute to the war. US military aid to Ukraine has so far totaled about $45 billion in weapons and equipment.

“We will be strongly reaffirming our support for Ukraine as it continues to face Russia’s war of aggression,” Blinken said as he headed into Tuesday’s meetings.

The pointed remarks underscored NATO’s attempts to deter Russia as its war in Ukraine approaches the two-year mark — and as all indications suggest the conflict is likely to drag out for far longer.

What was once a resounding show of unity within the military alliance has given way to fears that top Republicans in the United States will back away from continuing to support the surge of weapons the West has been sending to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022. At the same time, NATO’s plans to include Sweden as a full member remain snarled within the alliance, upending efforts to project a common front among alliance members.

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The Biden administration, eager to support Ukraine and remain a reliable partner within NATO, has predicted that the war funding will be approved by year’s end.

But Representative Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican and chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said of war funding in an interview on NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday that “it’d be very difficult to get it done by the end of the year,” given the current mood in Congress.

NATO’s assurances are particularly critical as Ukraine heads into an uncertain winter, with dwindling stockpiles of ammunition and other weapons as it tries to protect its power grids and advance an offensive that has struggled to gain ground in the country’s south and east.

Stoltenberg acknowledged that Ukraine had not pushed the front lines drastically farther into Russian-held territory over the past year. But he said its forces were holding their own against Russia’s much larger army.

“The intense fighting continues,” he said.

Perhaps mindful of the uncertainty of allied support for Ukraine, several diplomats said Tuesday that the alliance should pin down long-term security commitments, with Mariya Gabriel, Bulgaria’s foreign minister, saying NATO should “define together what are the next steps in order not to create expectations that we will be not able to fulfill.”

Canada’s foreign minister, Mélanie Joly, echoed that concern.

“While what is happening in the Middle East is taking a lot of our attention, we need to make sure that we are always focused on Ukraine,” Joly said.

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“Ukraine has a lot, but needs more,” she added. “There’s been lots of words. We need even more action, and that is why we’ll be talking about the implementation of our commitments.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.