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Zelenskyy seeks more Europe support as funding worries mount

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) walks with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez before the start of a plenary session of the European Political Community summit at the Palacio de Congreso in Granada, southern Spain on Oct. 5, 2023. Europe's quest to build a common geopolitical purpose brought four dozen of its leaders to Granada, but its credibility suffered a blow when the Azerbaijani president stayed away.    (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Aliaksandr Kudrytski, Daryna Krasnolutska and Katharina Rosskopf Bloomberg News

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with European leaders to press for continued support against Russia’s invasion, amid concerns about the continued flow of U.S. aid.

Zelenskyy kept fellow-leaders guessing about whether he would attend until the eve of a summit in Granada, Spain, because he sought concrete results from a trip, according to people familiar with his thinking. It was not clear to him whether allies were ready to deliver on concrete pledges, added the people who asked not to be named on a confidential issue.

“Of course it’s a difficult election period for the United States, different voices, some of the voices are very strange,” Zelenksiy told reporters on his arrival for the meeting of nearly 50 European leaders. “We’ll speak about this today.”

The U.S. has stripped out funding for Ukraine in a spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, at a critical stage for Kyiv’s counter-offensive. European backing for Ukraine faces a new challenge after Robert Fico, a candidate sympathetic to Russia, won Slovakia’s election Saturday.

There is a growing apprehension in Ukraine’s political circles that the infighting in Washington may disrupt the steady stream of economic aid.

“The longer the war lasts, the less readiness there will be to help Ukraine,” Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golob told reporters before the European Political Community summit. “That’s why everyone is waiting for what the outcome will be before the winter. Time is running out.”

Ahead of the gathering, Zelenskyy spoke to Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Commission, to discuss the meeting and restrictions on Ukrainian agriculture exports by some EU members, the people said.

“Ukraine needs predictability, reliability in the direct budget support,” von der Leyen said. “I’m very confident of support for Ukraine from the United States, what the United States is working on is the timing.”

European Council President Charles Michel told Bloomberg Television’s Maria Tadeo that Biden reassured other leaders about the strength of the U.S. commitment to Ukraine.

“It’s very important that on both sides of the Atlantic, together with other partners across the world, that we don’t lose the spirit of solidarity,” Michel said. “Because what’s stake is the multilateral order and what’s at stake is our security in the future.”

Kyiv has seen cracks in relations with Poland, its strongest supporter, over Warsaw’s unilateral ban on Ukrainian grain imports. Ukraine submitted a complaint to the World Trade Organization over the ban, while the government in Warsaw said it will no longer send military aid to Kyiv before walking back some of the remarks. Farmers are an important constituency for Poland’s ruling party, which is facing a tightly-contested parliamentary election on Oct. 15.

Challenges are piling up for Ukraine as winter nears. Its counteroffensive slowed over the past weeks, with soldiers fighting against deeply entrenched Russian forces with heavy casualties. The steady stream of refugees isn’t helping the economy either as the central bank is burning through cash in order to prop up the freshly unpegged national currency.

The country is also preparing for renewed Russian attacks against its energy infrastructure once colder weather sets in. Meanwhile, cases of corruption in Ukraine are fueling concern among Kyiv’s allies.

Zelenskyy told Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Granada that his recent visit to Washington went well, and that it was important to keep the European Union united, in an exchange that was heard by reporters. EU leaders will hold a summit in Granada on Friday.

Ukraine’s key task is to strengthen air defense ahead of winter and discuss the freedom of navigation on the Black Sea as his country seeks to resume grain exports damaged by Russia’s naval blockade, Zelenskyy said on Telegram earlier.

Ukraine may run out of money to purchase weapons from U.S. stockpiles within the next month and a half if the U.S. doesn’t approve a new defense package, Oleksandra Ustinova, the head of a parliamentary commission tracking foreign weapons supply and usage, said on local TV.

–With assistance from Richard Bravo, Kevin Whitelaw, Piotr Skolimowski, Milda Seputyte and Jan Bratanic.