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Diplomacy Watch: Are European countries diverging on Ukraine aid?

Diplomacy Watch: Are European countries diverging on Ukraine aid?

As Poland preps to send tanks, Italy delays its latest package of weapons and financial assistance to Kyiv.

Analysis | Europe

A number of European countries are reportedly planning to increase their material support for Ukraine, though the exact timeline of the aid and the actual impact it will have on the battlefield are not immediately clear. 

French President Emmanuel Macron last week pledged to assist Ukraine with  “light tanks.” Germany and the United States followed suit with similar pledges to provide armored fighting vehicles. 

Poland is also planning to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, according to President Andrzej Duda, who was speaking during his visit to Western Ukraine on Wednesday. Duda said that he hoped that this would be a part of a larger international shipment, a sentiment Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky echoed after meeting with his Polish counterpart. Warsaw alone “cannot help us with ‘Leopards,’ because we are fighting against thousands of tanks of the Russian Federation,” he said in a statement. Kyiv continues to ask its Western supporters to send more modern, heavy tanks. 

The Council on Foreign Relations ran an article on Wednesday on the potential battlefield implications of the armored vehicles and the importance of the signal these developments send to the Kremlin. As the CFR report puts it, “They could be seen as crossing a red line, leading to increased saber-rattling and threats of the use of nuclear weapons.”  

Meanwhile, Italian media reports that the country’s government will delay a decision on whether to send a sixth arms package to Ukraine until next month due to domestic political tensions, concerns about the cost, and what another aid package could mean for the state of the Italian military, since two of its five missile batteries are already committed to other foreign theaters. 

The first five tranches of aid were sent to Kyiv during the tenure of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who was replaced by Giorgia Meloni in late October. There were originally concerns that the right-wing coalition government that Meloni represents would not maintain her country’s staunch support for Ukraine, but she pledged “strong commitment” to NATO and its efforts aiding Ukraine in November — support she confirmed again in a call with Zelensky in late December. Meloni has downplayed the delay in sending more military aid to Ukraine, but Reuters notes that the Italian daily newspaper la Repubblica, citing unnamed sources, reported earlier this week that Meloni “is facing resistance on the approval of a decree to send arms to Ukraine from her right-wing allies Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi.” Sources from each man’s respective political party denied the report. 

A follow-up report from the same newspaper quoted the Italian foreign minister as maintaining that Italy would provide a missile defense system but was delayed due to technical issues.  

In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:

— House Republicans finally got their house in order last weekend, electing Kevin McCarthy as speaker on the fifteenth round of voting. What does that mean for U.S. policy toward Ukraine? Reports suggest that the deal McCarthy struck with his GOP opponents included a Pentagon budget cut, likely fueled in part by Republican opposition to continued funding of Ukraine. But the subsequent selection of pro-defense committee chairs indicates that no dramatic change will be happening any time soon. Dan Caldwell and Sumantra Maitra argue in Newsweek that House Republicans must fix America's Ukraine policy. “Republicans in the new House majority have an opportunity to fundamentally change America's Ukraine policy in a way that prioritizes America,” they write. “Failure to take advantage will only maintain an untenable policy that is not making America safer and that risks a larger war.”   

—Human rights commissioners from Ukraine and Russia are set to meet this week in Turkey to discuss the possibility of further exchanges of prisoners of war.

—Sweden balked at some of the conditions placed by Turkey regarding Sweden’s application to join NATO, but Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson remains confident that Turkey will approve the request. "Turkey both confirms that we have done what we said we would do, but they also say that they want things that we cannot or do not want to give them," Kristersson told a defense think-tank conference in Sweden, according to Reuters. 

—The Orthodox Christmas ceasefire proposed by Vladimir Putin last week did not hold. According to the New York Times, “Moscow claimed it was defending itself against continuing Ukrainian strikes. Ukraine — which had not agreed to the cease-fire — reported continued Russian attacks, though it was unclear if they were before or after the pause was to begin.” Residents in Ukraine also said that sounds of fighting were also heard on Friday, despite Putin’s order. Ukrainian officials continued to dismiss the proposed ceasefire as a cynical ploy. “Everyone in the world knows how the Kremlin uses respites at war to continue the war with renewed vigor,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned shortly after Putin ordered the ceasefire.

—The Pentagon is considering including Stryker combat vehicles as part of the next tranche of military aid to Ukraine. 

U.S. State Department news:

In a press briefing Tuesday, Ned Price laid out the reasoning for the latest security assistance package for Ukraine, which the Pentagon earlier said was aimed at changing the dynamic on the battlefield:

“The broader dynamic is one in which there remain thousands upon thousands of Russian forces on sovereign Ukrainian territory with Russian assets regularly raining down firepower onto Ukraine’s towns, its cities, targeting civilian infrastructure,” said Price. “So that is a dynamic of course that we would seek to change, a dynamic that the provision of this additional security assistance – some $3 billion when you take into account the Presidential Drawdown Authority and the Foreign Military Financing that we announced last Friday – will seek to change because it provides additional capabilities, new capabilities in this case, including armored fighting vehicles…our goal is to continue and we will continue to support our Ukrainian partners for as long as it takes.”

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