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U.S. Shores Up Ukraine Support as Energy Crisis in Europe Looms

By pledging billions of dollars in long-term military aid to Ukraine, the Biden administration is seeking to prove that US support in the war can outlast Russia’s resolve.

It has been relatively painless for President Biden to rally US lawmakers and the public around this aid and billions in more immediate aid. But he must also keep Europe on board, as the Russian invasion has sent energy prices skyrocketing and created what could be the continent’s worst economic crisis in a generation.

US officials insist they have seen no cracks in the NATO alliance, whose members have agreed to varying degrees to support Ukraine in defending its homeland. Ukraine’s recent successes on the battlefield, from routing Russian troops in the northeast to isolating Russian units in the south, will also help bolster resolve in Europe, U.S. officials say.

But the jump in energy prices in Europe and the prospect of cool homes in the looming cold months has led to anxiety. Russia added to these concerns by recently announcing that Gazprom, the state-owned energy company, would not resume the flow of natural gas to Europe through its Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

Sir. Putin, military and diplomatic analysts say, believes that a gas shortage will weaken European support for Ukraine.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Russia had “armed energy” against the Europeans.

“President Putin is betting that these actions will break the will of countries to stand with Ukraine,” he said at NATO headquarters in Belgium earlier this month. “He’s betting that the Kremlin can bully other countries into submission.”

Sir. Blinken’s visit to NATO and to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, came just as Ukrainian forces began to make significant advances in the northeast of their country.

Pentagon officials say a decree that Mr. Putin’s signature last month, which raised the target number of his country’s active-duty service members by about 137,000 to 1.15 million, was another sign that he believes Russia can still win a war of attrition.

“He’s signaling that he’s trying to ground this thing,” a senior defense official said in an interview. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Sir. Biden, for his part, seems determined to show that NATO’s commitment remains solid. During a stop in Ukraine this month, Mr. Blinken announced another installment of military aid — about $1 billion to Ukraine, but also $1 billion to other European allies and partners.

“Our support for the nation of Ukraine has set an example for the world,” said Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, adding that support for Ukraine among US allies remains strong. “How it will continue after the winter, when the prices of heating go through the roof for people in Europe, is in my opinion uncertain. I only hope that we can stick together and provide the support that Ukraine needs.”

“Vladimir Putin appears to believe that Russia can win the long game — outdoing the Ukrainians in their willingness to fight and the willingness of the international community to continue to support Ukraine,” Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, told a news conference. last month. He called this belief “another Russian miscalculation.”

During his visit to Kiev, Mr. Blinken said America and its allies must work to “sustain Ukraine’s brave defenders in the long run.”

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“It means the continued and determined flow of capacity now,” he said.

Most of that power has come from America.

But material support for Ukraine from Europe has faded. The sum of new pledges of military and financial aid from six of the largest European countries fell in May and fell sharply in Juneaccording to an analysis by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.

In July, the last month for which data was available, none of these countries – Britain, Germany, Poland, France, Italy and Spain – made any significant new pledges.

“We were surprised that aid basically went to zero, especially from the major European powers,” said Christoph Trebeschthe Institute’s Director of International Finance and Macroeconomics and the leader of the team conducting the analysis.

Sir. Trebesch noted that European countries were still distributing the aid announced in previous months, and that some of it has been sent in secret. But he added that the new data suggests that material support for Ukraine, particularly transfers of military equipment, may become scarce.

“This all points more towards funding a stalemate rather than funding Ukrainian counter-offensives,” Mr. Trebesch. “It seems to be more about maintaining the status quo than really allowing Ukraine to do anything serious, both militarily and economically.”

Analysts say Germany in particular has fallen short despite its earlier rhetoric.

Markus Kaima senior fellow for international security at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said he and other analysts were initially “completely surprised” by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s pledge to significantly raise military spending to support Ukraine “as long as it takes” and finally remove the country’s dependence about Russian energy.

But the political changes since then have been less dramatic, he said.

Critics say the German government has not done enough to help Ukraine. A particular problem is Germany’s refusal to send Leopard 2 main tanks to Ukraine. Sir. Scholz and His government ministers have said that the German military’s own arsenal was too depleted to send heavier equipment and that it did not want to be the first country to send modern Western tanks to Ukraine.

Germany announced a 100 billion euro ($113 billion) increase in defense funding this year. Still, it will fall short of NATO’s goal of each member spending at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on its own defense each year, a goal that Mr. Scholz pledged to achieve, according to a forecast from the German Economic Institute, a prominent think tank based in Cologne.

Jeffrey Rathke, a former senior US diplomat and president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studiessaid Germany and other European countries would be in a stronger position to continue to oppose Russia this winter.

“When you look at public opinion,” said Mr. Rathke, “you can see what I would call the readiness of the German public to be led to further steps and sacrifices to achieve the strategic goals of supporting Ukraine and preserving European political order.”

Christian Molling, a research director at the German Foreign Affairs Councilalso said he was optimistic that Europe would continue to present a united front against Russia, but added that public disagreements on the issue would continue.

“It will be loud, sometimes dirty,” Mr Mölling said, drawing comparisons to the political debates at the height of the pandemic and the European debt crisis.

But, he added, “we discuss all these things in public because that’s how democracies do it.”

Emily Cochrane contributed with reporting.