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G-7 leaders agree to deal to tap frozen Russian assets for Ukraine

In this handout image provided by the German Government Press Office, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, center left, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, center right, listen to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, on Thursday in Fasano, Italy.  (Handout)
By Matt Viser and Tyler Pager Washington Post

FASANO, Italy – Leaders from the world’s leading democracies came to an agreement Thursday to use frozen Russian assets to help provide Ukraine with some $50 billion over the next year in its ongoing war with Russia.

The agreement, which comes after months of intense diplomacy, was one of the top goals of the Group of Seven leaders as they met at a five-star resort on the southern Italian coast. President Biden also signed a bilateral security agreement with Ukraine at a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy before the two held a joint news conference later Thursday.

The use of Russian assets, which involves a complex mechanism to provide a loan with the seized assets as collateral, marked a victory for Biden and other leaders who had been hoping to use the summit to send a strong signal of support for Ukraine at a precarious moment in the war.

“This has been something that the United States has put a lot of energy and effort into,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. “We see proceeds from these assets as a valuable source of resources for Ukraine at a moment when Russia continues to brutalize the country, not just through military action on the front but through the attempted destruction of its energy grid and its economic vitality.”

Sullivan credited Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s hard-right prime minister and host of this year’s G-7 summit, for navigating the thorny disputes among countries over the plan’s technical details.

“The Italian presidency I think has done a really good job bringing everyone together around the table to try to deal with what’s both a simple and complex proposition,” he said. “The simple proposition is, we have to put these assets to work. The complex proposition is, how do we do that specifically? I think we are on the verge of a good outcome here.”

The G-7 consists of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. These countries have struggled with how to continue supporting Ukraine as its war with Russia bogs down and the public in some nations, including the United States, becomes more skeptical of sending aid to Kyiv.

The United States has said it would help support a loan of up to $50 billion as part of the frozen-assets deal, with its share potentially going down based on commitments from other countries.

The negotiations have taken place over the past year, with Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen raising the idea during a variety of international summits. The conversations have intensified in recent months at meetings in several world capitals.

The European Union had been moving forward on a separate proposal to tax immobilized assets, which would generate $3 billion to $5 billion each year. But that amount was not viewed as enough to cover Ukraine’s needs, and the United States pressed for a proposal that would leverage future revenue as collateral for loans.

Biden arrived in Italy late Wednesday for the final G-7 summit of his term. The visit is a brief two-day stay that comes at a turbulent moment for him politically and personally, as well as a disruptive time for European and democratic nations as some leaders are clinging to their positions and calling snap elections.

In addition to Ukraine, the leaders are expected to discuss a U.S.-sponsored cease-fire plan for Gaza; the risks of artificial intelligence, in a session led by Pope Francis; and Meloni’s effort to ramp up investment in Africa, partly as a way to encourage migrants from that continent to stay in their homelands.

On Thursday morning, Biden warmly greeted Meloni, holding his aviator sunglasses in one hand and shaking her hand with the other. The other world leaders, who had arrived before Biden, came together underneath a canopy for a photo.

“Our agenda has become very busy,” Meloni said in opening remarks as the leaders sat around a circular wooden table. “I’m sure over these two days, we’ll be able to have an exchange which will give us concrete and measurable results.”

The 10-year security agreement that Biden and Zelenskyy plan to sign Thursday afternoon will commit Washington to supplying Kyiv with a wide range of military assistance. The agreement, Sullivan said, is “a milestone moment and a real marker of our commitment, not just this year but for many years ahead.”

Still, a reelected Donald Trump or any other future American president could withdraw from the agreement because it is not a treaty and would not be ratified by Congress. Trump has expressed skepticism of Ukraine’s battle with Russia and called on Europe to take on more of the burden of financing the war effort.

Trump’s potential return to the White House has hung over the conference here, with the possibility that this could be Biden’s last summit.

That has been a backdrop for one of Biden’s main messages here: the importance of global alliances for America’s interests.

“Every day subsequent to this summit, his goal is going to be to do as much as possible to reinforce the idea that the United States is best served if we are closely aligned with the our democratic allies and partners,” Sullivan said. “The difference between past times when the U.S. has not been aligned and what you’re going to see here in Puglia is something that can actually be measured, in my perspective, in improved American standing in the world.”