Russian President Vladimir Putin said Ukraine could not survive for more than “a week” without Western military and financial aid, a claim made on the same day as a European Union official warned that the bloc could not replace the funding gap if support for Kyiv from the United States dried up.
Putin made his remarks on Western funding for Ukraine as fears mount that political turmoil in Washington could jeopardise crucial military and humanitarian aid that Kyiv requires to battle Russia’s invasion. US President Joe Biden admitted this week that he “does worry” US support for Ukraine might get derailed.
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Speaking on Thursday at a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, a Moscow-based think tank, in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin said that Ukraine was being propped up “thanks to multi-billion donations that come each month”.
“If one just stops, it will all die in a week,” Putin said.
“The same applies to the defence system. Just imagine the aid stops tomorrow. It will live for only a week when they run out of ammo,” he said.
Putin also claimed that Ukraine had lost more than 90,000 troops since Kyiv’s counteroffensive against Russian forces began in June.
At a meeting of the European Political Community (EPC) in Spain on Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU could not replace the US as Kyiv’s primary donor.
“Can Europe fill the gap left by the US? Well, certainly Europe cannot replace the US,” Borrell said.
The EU and the US – together comprising most NATO members – are vital in Ukraine’s fight against Russia. The EU and its member states have promised more than $100bn in multi-year support to Ukraine, including financing weapon deliveries. Washington has committed $43bn in military assistance, while Congress has approved $113bn, which includes humanitarian aid.
But new US funding for Ukraine has been put on hold as part of a weekend deal struck with opposition Republicans to avert a US government shutdown.
The removal by hardline Republicans of their own House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy this week has added to the uncertainty around aid for Ukraine. Some of the hardliners want US aid to Ukraine to cease.
Jim Dubik, a senior fellow at the Washington, DC-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) think tank, said that Putin is counting on NATO and the US to wane in their support for Ukraine, and recent events in the US Congress play into Putin’s hands.
“By cutting aid to Ukraine, Congress is directly supporting Putin’s desire to divide the alliance … Congress’s recent action does not manifest the strategic leadership the world expects of the United States,” Dubik said in a comment posted on social media.
"#Putin isn’t going to quit unless he’s forced to. Given the poor state of #Russian forces, he’s barely been hanging on and is counting on US and #NATO support to wane. By cutting aid to #Ukraine, Congress is directly supporting Putin’s desire to divide the alliance." 2/4
— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) October 4, 2023
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking to the meeting in Spain of European leaders on Thursday, expressed concern about Washington’s “political storms” but said he was confident he still had US bipartisan backing.
Leaders at the EPC summit said Putin’s calculation was that the West would become fatigued at long-term support of Ukraine, handing him a path to victory.
“I think Russia wants us to be tired,” Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said, adding: “We should show them that we are not. We have to help Ukraine as long as it takes.”.
French President Emmanuel Macron reinforced that message in a meeting with Zelenskyy, pledging “tireless” support for Ukraine.
But within the EU there are fissures.
Slovakia announced it has frozen decisions on military aid to neighbouring Ukraine following parliamentary elections on Sunday which were won by former Prime Minister Robert Fico’s SMER-SSD party, which campaigned on a promise to end military support for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia.