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Kyiv Reality Check: What Ukraine's Friends Say Out Loud — And Whisper To Each Other

Europe's foreign ministers traveled together to Kyiv yesterday to reaffirm their support for Ukraine. It is necessary after the first signs of "fatigue" in Western support, from a Polish about-face to the victory of a pro-Russian prime minister in Slovakia.

photo of Josep Borrell listening to Zelensky speak

EU's chief of foreign affairs Josep Borrell and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky during the EU-Ukraine meeting in Kyiv

Johanna Leguerre, EU foreign ministry via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — The symbolism is strong: for the first time ever, Europe's foreign ministers meet in a country outside the European Union. But it looks like a diplomatic ‘Coué’. The Coué method, named for a French psychologist, holds that a person tends to repeat a message to convince oneself as much as to convince others.

In Kyiv on Monday, the European foreign ministers solemnly reaffirmed their commitment to Ukraine, perhaps because it's suddenly no longer as obvious to them as to the rest of the world.

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There has indeed been some hesitation as of late; and it was undoubtedly time for this display of unity, which has stood as one of the major diplomatic achievements since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Hungarian foreign minister was notably absent from the family photo, due to his "Putinophilia", and his Polish counterpart was officially ill, which happens to coincide with the recent Polish-Ukrainian quarrel. It's also a safe bet that, in a few weeks' time, the Slovakian minister could also be missing from such a gathering, following Sunday's election victory of the pro-Russian Robert Fico.

These nuances aside, there was a message of firmness in Kyiv, embodied by the bit of alliteration from German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who predicted that Europe that would soon go "from Lisbon to Luhansk" — Luhansk, in the Donbas region of Ukraine, currently annexed by Russia.

A war that's here to stay

There can be no doubt that the war is here to stay. Firstly, because the Ukrainian counteroffensive has so far failed to radically alter the balance of power on the ground. Autumn will slow down the movement of tanks and heavy equipment. Russian and Ukrainian positions are therefore likely to remain static for some time to come.

In this context, any change in Western support for Ukraine could have major consequences. Indeed, it was Vladimir Putin's initial calculation to bank on divisions or "fatigue" among Ukraine's supporters.

So far, this has not happened, but the master of the Kremlin has not given up hope that recent cracks could begin to deepen.

photo of soldier saluting to zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky presents military awards to heroes during the celebration of the Day of Defenders of Ukraine at the Kyiv Fortress on Sunday

Ukraine Presidency/ZUMA

Eyes on Washington

There was the crisis with Poland, which showed that even a country so committed to supporting Ukraine could, for good or bad reasons, still change course. That was followed a few days later by the victory in Slovakia of a candidate who campaigned on ending military aid to Ukraine.

But there's also what's happening in the United States, with the rise of a sentiment opposed to military aid to Ukraine in the Republican ranks. The surprise came in the form of the compromise negotiated over the weekend between the White House and Republicans to allow government funding to continue and avoid a shutdown — the price to pay for the deal was the postponement of $6 billion in aid to Ukraine.

On Monday, Joe Biden also sought to reassure Kyiv, as did the Europeans, that vital aid to Ukraine would continue. But it's clear that this support is conditional on the outcome of next year's U.S .election, and on possible political changes in Europe.

All this was well worth a trip to Kyiv: yes, to reassure ourselves, and others, that the pro-Ukraine coalition is not changing course.

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