The Irish Times view on Nato and Ukraine: preparing for a long battle

The move to establish a five year €90bn military aid programme recognises that the deadlocked war still have a long way to run

Nato’s decision to start planning for a five-year €90 billion Ukraine military aid programme is a recognition of two uncomfortable realities: that the deadlocked war may well – is likely to, many think – continue for another five years at an horrendous cost in lives and cash. And that there is every possibility that Donald Trump may return to the White House and cut US aid, thus undermining efforts to hold the ground against Russia.

Europeans were particularly enraged by the latter’s campaign speech a month ago promising to encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to Nato members who did not spend what Nato regarded as sufficient on defence. And they watch apprehensively as Republicans in Congress continue to block a €55 billion Ukraine aid package.

At the organisation’s 75th anniversary ministerial gathering in Brussels last Thursday, delegates were discussing “future proofing” the alliance and the necessity for long-term structures to support Ukraine. Handling Trump is also key to discussions over who succeeds Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg when he steps down this year. Former Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, seen as having had a productive relationship with Trump, is a front-runner.

Stoltenberg, the architect of the Ukraine fund proposal, is also suggesting that Nato should assume from the US the leadership of the Ramstein Group, officially known as the Ukraine Defence Contact Group, set up to co-ordinate military supplies to Kyiv from about 50 western countries.

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There are fund sceptics. The US and Germany worry about an escalation that could drag Nato into direct conflict with Russia. Where does training Ukrainian troops to use Nato weapons, for example, cross the line into direct engagement in the war? Spain warns of duplicating the EU role, while Russia-friendly Hungary opposes anything which it says could turn Nato from a defensive into an offensive organisation. But diplomats predict it will get the required consensus at the Washington summit in July.

On the ground, meanwhile, Ukraine is grappling with the aftershocks of a military counteroffensive of its own that burned through precious artillery ammunition and other weapons, while failing to gain appreciable territory. The country remains in dire need of arms, particularly for air defence, and reports suggest Russia, which is building up its forces, is preparing another major offensive. According to President Zelenskiy, unless the stalled package is approved soon, his forces will have to “go back, retreat, step by step, in small steps.” He warned that some major cities could be at risk of falling. Against this backdrop, it is perhaps too easy, here on the peaceful western edge of Europe, to underestimate the real threat that many of our EU allies see on their doorstep.

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