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On Ukraine, Europeans are Doing More Than Many Seem to Think

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It is time to stop accusing the Europeans of not doing their fair share for Ukraine. The perpetual burden-sharing debate, with Washington complaining that Europeans are not pulling their weight and Brussels ducking, is misguided when Europeans are, in fact, now doing at least that. In the year ahead, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic should drop their occasional “tit-for-tat” quarrels, respect the other continent’s relative strengths, and plan jointly for a future recovery of Ukraine.

How are Europeans pulling their weight?

The European Union and its member countries contributed slightly more to Ukraine than the United States did last year, as of late November, according to Germany’s Kiel Institute for the World Economy, which has been tracking support for Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last Feb. 24. Overall, military, financial, and humanitarian commitments from the United States reached almost €48 billion through Nov. 20, compared with close to €52 billion from the EU and its member States. The assistance included €11.7 billion in military aid, €5.4 billion in humanitarian relief, and €34.7 billion in EU financial support, which itself covered €17 billion for Ukrainian refugees.

Of course, the nature of the assistance was very different on the two sides of the Atlantic. The United States committed about 95 percent more military aid, while the EU and its member states contributed 131 percent more financial resources.

Europeans also had to sacrifice more as a consequence of Russia’s assault on Ukraine. Sanctions imposed on Moscow reduced EU exports to Russia by 36.7 percent through November, representing nearly €30 billion in lost export earnings. In comparison, U.S. exports to Russia totaled only $6.4 billion in 2021. More importantly, European governments had to deal with an energy crisis on a scale unseen in decades. On top of weathering an €80 billion increase in their trade deficit with Russia, Europeans also had to pass huge national relief packages to support their economies, mostly due to the energy crisis resulting from the war in Ukraine. For example, the French and German governments budgeted, respectively, €110 billion through 2023 and €200 billion through 2024 to support industries and households through the economic crisis.

Of course, comparisons such as this will necessarily fluctuate over time. And asymmetries in commitments to Ukraine are unavoidable. The United States’ capacity to produce and deliver weapons far outstretches anything its European allies can manage. Estimates vary, but Ukraine now fires anywhere between 5,000 and 7,000 artillery rounds per day, an amount no European industry has the capacity to keep up with. In a protracted war, even the United States risks exhausting its massive stockpiles. In fact, the US aims to ramp up its production from 14,000 rounds of 155mm shells per month to 20,000 by the spring, which corresponds to what the entire French army ordered between 2015 and 2020 for its Caesar howitzers. While Europeans have promised to ramp up production as well, these troubling facts show that the United States rightfully took the lead in security assistance to Ukraine.

The fundamentals of financial and humanitarian assistance also are different in Europe, compared with the United States. Member States provide the EU with the resources to ensure continent-wide cohesion and promote development in its regional periphery. Within weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the EU was therefore able to identify €17 billion from its cohesion fund that could be allocated to help member countries provide refugees with housing, education, and health care. The EU also encouraged member States to reallocate previously disbursed cohesion funds by allowing the transfer of resources between approved programs, freeing additional capital.

Historically, the transatlantic alliance has worked best when its members co-owned parts of a shared project rather than trying to minimize responsibility or leave room to point fingers for any failures. Given the relative strengths and weaknesses of transatlantic allies, sectoral asymmetries are even desirable. While the Kiel Institute tracking showed that the initial balance of commitments last year tilted towards the United States, Europeans have caught up, surpassed the United States, and inevitably will shoulder an even larger part of the recovery effort, particularly since the ultimate goal of a Marshall Plan-like reconstruction program for Ukraine would be EU membership.

Recent developments seem to support this point. In December, the EU announced an €18 billion package to be delivered in monthly installments through 2023 to finance Ukraine’s immediate needs, including “initial support towards sustainable post-war reconstruction,” suggesting more funds will follow. Though much of it will be delivered as loans, the interest on that borrowing is heavily subsidized, and the maturities go up to 35 years, meaning Europeans have committed themselves to paying for the war long into the future. The United States also announced a $45 billion package, but in the context of a divided Congress, these funds are meant to be allocated incrementally,  as Congress determines necessary throughout 2023.

Combined with the European Commission’s decision to grant EU candidate status to Ukraine, these developments demonstrate Europe’s will to shoulder a growing share of the burden. The upcoming EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv should therefore be an opportunity to reassert the European Union’s commitment to Ukrainian victory and further implement the gradual ramp-up of the EU’s support by both continuing to help the United States provide security assistance and taking the lead of the recovery effort.

IMAGE: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen shake hands after a joint press conference following talks in Kyiv on February 2, 2023. The European Commission chief had arrived in Kyiv with a team of commissioners and the bloc’s most senior diplomat, a day before a Ukraine-European Union summit in the war-torn country. (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

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