Brussels offers 18,000 million to Zelensky but recognizes that it has less and less room to help Ukraine | International

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and Charles Michel, President of the European Council, this Tuesday in Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt).Peter Dejong (AP)

The European Commission wants to deploy more funds to help Ukraine confront Russian aggression, but recognizes that it has less and less room to find the money. The body headed by Ursula von der Leyen is preparing to announce another package of 18,000 million euros to keep Ukraine and its current needs afloat, and is widening the European budget seams to obtain the funds, according to a technical report to which EL PAÍS has had access. As the ninth month of the invasion approaches, slight signs of erosion in economic support begin to appear. And more and more voices are being heard urging kyiv to make it visible that the dialogue is not closed and that if it is not opened, it is Moscow’s responsibility.

Ukraine – which is beginning to face a very difficult winter with Russian attacks on its energy infrastructure – needs about 38,000 million a year to cover its financial needs and essential state functions, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The United States has been willing in principle to cover half of that bill. Now, Brussels wants to contribute as well and is exploring various ways to raise new funds that could come out of the extrabudgetary mattress or take the form of some type of community debt issue, such as the one used for the recovery fund for covid-19 or the one that served to co-finance unemployment coverage in countries such as Spain through ERTEs (temporary employment regulation files), according to the Commission’s technical report.

The newly chosen framework is likely to require unanimous support from member states, and Hungary, which has stood in the way of European sanctions against Moscow for months, has already said it will block further aid. When there is no clear end to the war launched by Vladimir Putin, some community sources do not rule out the need to reopen the entire July 2020 agreement, when the EU agreed to the largest budgetary effort in its history (up to two billion euros, between the multiannual budget framework and the coronavirus recovery fund).

Grants or loans?

Brussels, which has maintained strong support for Ukraine, has announced various aid packages since the beginning of the invasion. However, of the promised funds for kyiv, not everything has arrived: from the announcement of 12.4 billion guaranteed by the EU, only 7 billion have been disbursed, while debate continues among the Member States about whether this aid should take the form of subsidies (as it wishes). Germany) or concessional loans. The Commission’s internal document acknowledges that even scratching out those funds has been difficult; and that it has required not only the endorsement of the EU, but also that of the Twenty-seven.

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Von der Leyen has already slipped in recent weeks the existence of this new package that is expected to be announced this Wednesday. And even he pointed it out over the weekend in a call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The president of the Commission seeks to convert this financial support that had been designed on a case-by-case basis and with “difficulty of budgetary limitations” into a “predictable and sustainable framework.” The aid would go to cover the most immediate needs of Ukraine – from the payment of civil servants’ salaries to hospitals – to the repair of critical and energy infrastructure at a time when winter begins and Russian attacks against power plants ukraines are leaving citizens without gas, heating or electricity; a reality that can push a new exodus of refugees towards the EU.

money with conditions

It is about looking for a structural solution, because the war can be long and because keeping the country afloat requires a lot of money. However, the disbursement will be accompanied by conditions that kyiv must meet —from issues related to governance, the fight against corruption or the rule of law—, which would also pave the way for its entry into the EU, community sources point out. But, as the Union faces recession, fears are growing in some capitals that it will be increasingly difficult to justify disbursements if they are extended over time. Hence, contacts with the Zelensky government are increasing to urge it to show publicly that it is not closed to negotiating with Russia, several sources point out. However, there is still no requirement to negotiate; That bridge, which would mean telling an invaded and attacked country to give in, has not been crossed.

Weeks ago, after Russian pseudo-referendums on the annexation of the four Ukrainian regions occupied by Kremlin forces, Zelensky signed a decree vetoing any negotiations with Putin. However, after the insistence of the US Administration of Joe Biden – who knows that he may have problems maintaining his support after the legislative elections this Tuesday – that he be willing to sit down with the head of the Kremlin, the Ukrainian leader has left open a crack for dialogue, as he advanced for the first time in months in an interview with EL PAÍS. “If they withdraw and recognize that they are terribly wrong, then we can find a format for dialogue,” Zelensky told this newspaper. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has also highlighted these days that the diplomatic channel must be reopened. “At some point, we will have to sit down around a negotiating table again,” said Macron, who stressed that if it is done, it must be in the conditions and at the time that Ukraine chooses.

European citizens show no signs of fading in their support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, but winter is coming, and the Kremlin’s energy war and inflation can take a toll on solidarity. There have already been some samples, widely publicized by the Kremlin’s propaganda apparatus, such as the mobilizations against the sanctions against Moscow in Hungary or the Czech Republic. This weekend, hundreds of people marched in Italy in a demonstration to say “no to war” which, however, was aimed primarily at Ukraine, the invaded country, and not at Russia, the invading country.

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