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U.S. State Dept. Spokesperson: 'Europe has potential to help Ukraine, but not instead of the U.S.'

U.S. State Dept. Spokesperson: 'Europe has potential to help Ukraine, but not instead of the U.S.' Daniel Cisek (Photo: RBC-Ukraine)

Why the U.S. is delaying a new aid package for Ukraine, what will happen in case of a change of power in America, how ordinary Americans feel about the war in Ukraine, and what messages Ukrainian politicians will receive from Western leaders in the next few days - read in an interview with Daniel Cisek, State Department’s Russian-Language Spokesperson, with RBC-Ukraine.

The 60th Security Conference is starting today in Munich, where one of the key topics is, of course, the war in Ukraine and the West's support for our country.

The meeting of leaders and top politicians from around the world is taking place amid a debate in the United States over further funding for Ukraine. The delay in aid from a key ally is already costing Ukraine's defenders on the battlefield too much.

On the eve of the conference, RBC-Ukraine discussed the situation with military and budgetary aid from the United States and negotiations on security guarantees and political risks of the presidential election campaign with Daniel Cisek, a State Department’s Russian-Language Spokesperson.

- Last year, when President Biden proposed a $61 billion aid package for Ukraine, you said in our previous interview that Ukraine could count on bipartisan support from the United States. Now we are seeing how difficult and time-consuming this aid package is in Congress. If the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, does put the bill to a vote, can we expect a positive result?

- The issue is being discussed in the U.S. Congress. Unfortunately, it is a long process. The U.S. has a democratic system and this is a democratic process. There is a temporary delay, although, of course, it would be better if there was not.

What we do know is that President Biden would like Congress to approve a new aid package now. And that President Biden and his team are in close contact with Democrats and Republicans in Congress. There was already a step forward when the Senate approved a new aid package, and the whole Congress is expected to approve a new aid package.

- When can this happen?

- There are different options and possibilities. Unfortunately, the process is slow, but it is part of our democratic system. I cannot predict the timing, but two things are worth noting.

First, bipartisan support for Ukraine in the Congress remains. And the majority of Americans support additional assistance to Ukraine. So it is expected that Congress will eventually approve the new package.

The U.S. also welcomes the EU's approval of additional assistance to Ukraine. Both the U.S. and Europe should fully support Ukraine. This enables Ukraine to defend itself. And President Biden's administration understands the situation in Ukraine right now, and that Ukraine needs a new aid package.

- Technically speaking, from the moment the House votes on the package, how long can it take before the aid is disbursed?

- It can be very, very fast. The U.S. can act almost immediately. I am not an expert on the Pentagon's actions, but they know what needs to be done. They have already done it. The U.S. has already provided $74 billion in support to Ukraine, the U.S. government and our Department of Defense understand how to do this, and they are ready to provide this assistance immediately.

- By the way, why did the latest version of the draft aid to Ukraine exclude funding for pensions? Is the logic here the same as in the case of salaries for the Ukrainian military, which should be provided by Ukrainian taxpayers?

- I can only give a general answer. Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the United States and European countries have been working together to support Ukraine. There are discussions about what the U.S. should do and what the EU should do in terms of military assistance and joint financial assistance. It seems more likely that Congress will approve a new aid package if a large part or most of the package is military aid - as far as I know, but I don't know all the details on that.

But what we saw a few weeks ago: The EU approved additional assistance, and it's a combination of military assistance and joint financial assistance. We know that now the EU has provided more to Ukraine than the U.S. This was the case at the beginning. So now we need to think about what the content of the new package might be to find a majority in Congress, and these issues are being discussed very actively.

- The presidential administration suggests that in the worst-case scenario, Ukraine could be left without American support, and could Europe then replace the United States in this role?

- This is a hypothetical question. President Biden and his administration expect that Congress will approve a new aid package for Ukraine. What does the U.S. government think about Europe in this regard? First of all, initially, the U.S. government thought that Europe could do much more. But gradually, the EU is doing more and more. It is also worth noting some European countries, like Germany, for example, will provide $8 billion to Ukraine this year on its own.

Europe has a great industrial potential to provide very significant assistance to Ukraine. But this does not mean that it should be instead of the United States. Indeed, for Ukraine to have the best opportunity to successfully defend itself, the United States and Europe must fully support Ukraine. And that is what President Biden wants and expects.

- The presidential campaign in the United States has begun. And the events in Congress de facto confirm this. A significant part of the American political elite, as well as voters, is focused on Donald Trump. How sharp can the turnaround in Ukraine be after the election if the power in the White House changes?

- Of course, it is impossible to predict what will happen in the future. Of course, many people in the world and many Americans are listening very carefully to what the candidates say about politics, about Ukraine, about the security of Europe, and so on. And we can say that in a democratic system, it is normal for such hot-button issues to be discussed.

This is a hypothetical question: what will happen if it does? So it's hard to comment on that, but what we know now is that the support for President Biden's administration is very strong and clear. And, as I said, bipartisan support for Ukraine remains in Congress, regardless of the opinion of any leader of any party. This is just a fact. There is a majority in Congress that supports Ukraine. And there is a majority among Americans themselves that there should be additional assistance to Ukraine.

- In your opinion, to what extent is the war in Ukraine still on the agenda of ordinary Americans? Judging by what we see in your media, the war is certainly covered, but it is not the priority as it was some time ago.

- Ordinary Americans, like people all over the world, have their problems, things that concern them, such as their financial situation. But at the same time, Americans understand that the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine was completely unjustified, it was a brutal act, it was illegal, and it was a terrible example of aggression. Ordinary Americans have an extreme sense of justice. And I know for a fact that Americans respect Ukrainians who are fighting bravely to defend their country.

Of course, it is difficult to say where the war in Ukraine is on the American agenda. But many Americans are thinking about it. My family, when we talk to them on the phone, always asks what is happening in Ukraine and what I think about the events in your country. Of course, this is a personal example, but Americans certainly do not forget about Ukraine.

- How did the American political community perceive the resignation of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi and the change of military leadership? Did this decision raise any questions?

- The U.S. government, of course, is watching the situation in Ukraine and what is happening there. President Zelenskyy has the right to choose and appoint his top military commander. President Biden's administration is confident that Ukraine has the strong military leadership it needs.

Ukraine has achieved many successes, although the situation is very difficult and serious. For example, Ukraine has regained half of the territories seized by Russia after the invasion and opened a new sea route in the Black Sea for export, which is also important. Ukraine also managed to destroy several Russian warships in the Black Sea. Here we see significant successes for Ukraine. What should be done next? According to the U.S. government, we need to study the situation and find the best way forward. And yes, this can be done with a new commander.

- Ukraine has begun the process of concluding bilateral agreements with partners, which we call security guarantees. We have already signed such an agreement with the UK. We are likely to sign one with Germany and France soon. Should we expect a similar agreement with the United States? When can it be signed?

- I can't comment on this question because I don't know. But I know that this issue is being discussed in the U.S. Of course, any agreement requires the approval of Congress. And perhaps it can be done in other ways. But usually, the Senate approval is required for such agreements. So there are many questions about how to do this.

Ukraine needs long-term support. We recently saw in an interview with the Russian leader what he thinks about Ukraine and how he thinks about it. And it was very clear that as long as Russia has such leadership, Ukraine remains in danger. And perhaps it will remain in danger even after this leader. That's why Ukraine needs the support of Europe and the support of the United States. The agreement that was signed with the UK is also important. And ultimately, the courage and abilities of the Armed Forces guarantee Ukraine's security.

- We saw how the U.S. guarantees to Israel worked in the first weeks after the Hamas attack and the start of the Gaza operation. Could this be the format that Ukraine should count on?

- Potentially, this can be discussed. Today I have no specific information on this. But I know that this issue is being discussed. For example, there are proposals among European countries that there should be an automatic response if there is a Russian invasion in the future. Suppose this conflict is over and the threat remains in the future. There is an idea that is being discussed about what the reaction should be so that it is automatic.

- We are talking to you on the eve of the Munich Security Conference. What messages did the American delegation come with, not only for Ukraine but for the world? And are there any plans to hold talks with Ukrainian representatives?

- The Munich Security Conference is a very important event. The conference brings together leaders not only from the United States and Europe but also from India and China. Vice President Kamala Harris represents the United States at the conference. She will give an important speech on U.S. foreign policy. And one important element of this speech is that the U.S. continues to support Ukraine.

There are four big themes of this conference. And support for Ukraine is at the top of the list, it's important. Other important themes are the Israeli conflict with Hamas, the importance of stability around Taiwan, and the importance of international institutions working together to ensure global peace and stability. For America, Ukraine is number one of these topics.

Secretary Blinken is also attending the conference and will meet with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, as well as the foreign ministers of Germany, France, India, China, and Armenia. He will even meet with the President of Azerbaijan. But Ukraine is very high on his priorities. He will meet with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, and they have many issues to discuss. It's a good opportunity for Secretary Blinken to get the latest information from the Ukrainian government about what the situation is and what is needed now. And it is also an opportunity for the Secretary of State to reiterate the messages of support for Ukraine and to give his assessment of what will happen in Congress and when Ukraine can expect a positive outcome on the aid package.