Belgium commits USD 1 billion to Ukraine as Zelenskyy continues his whistle stop European tour

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday picked up a second USD 1 billion promise of military aid in as many days for his war with Russia during a whirlwind tour through the European Union.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo

Brussels | Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday picked up a second USD 1 billion promise of military aid in as many days for his war with Russia during a whirlwind tour through the European Union.

The pledge came from Belgium, which topped up the money with a commitment to give 30 F-16 fighter jets over the next four years. The Netherlands added to the goodwill by promising to quickly assemble with key EU partners a Patriot air defence system, which Zelenskyy sees as key in stopping Russia from hitting the power grid and civilian areas, as well as military targets, with devastating glide bombs that wreak wide destruction.

A day earlier, Zelenskyy signed a bilateral security agreement with Spain that allocates 1 billion euros (USD 1.1 billion) of military aid to Ukraine in 2024, and 5 billion euros (USD 5.4 billion) by 2027.

The bilateral aid is essential since the 27-nation bloc is again struggling to overcome Hungary's objections to the bloc itself providing billions of euros in military aid to Kyiv, which is in its third year of war following Russia's 2022 full-scale invasion.

An estimated 6.5 billion euros (USD 7 billion) are stalled by the Hungarian government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is considered Russia's staunchest ally in the 27-nation bloc. Single member states have wide veto powers and Hungary has long held up funds aimed at boosting Ukraine's defence efforts.

Zelenskyy met with Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Tuesday and as well as the immediate money obtained a security agreement aimed at providing guarantees of military help until Ukraine joins the NATO alliance.

Since Russia launched a spring offensive around eastern Kharkiv, Zelenskyy has insisted Ukraine urgently needs seven more US-made Patriot air defence systems to stop Russia hitting the power grid and civilian areas, as well as military targets, with devastating glide bombs that wreak wide destruction.

Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren, meeting with her EU colleagues, said that such a system will be built “in a short time frame.” The Netherlands has the core components for a Patriot system and other EU nations will contribute other key parts and munitions.

“Ukraine is also fighting Europe's fight,” she said.

Hungary, meanwhile, continues to oppose swift distribution of centralised EU aid, angering just about every one of its EU allies.

"We need all these critical decisions and still there are too many decisions which are not made,” Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur told reporters ahead of the meeting. “The urgency is very, very acute.” Zelenskyy was to visit Belgium and Spain earlier this month but postponed all his foreign trips after Russia launched its offensive in the Kharkiv region.

Ukraine has repeatedly tried to strike behind Russian lines, often with drones, though Russia's response to the new technology used in unmanned vehicles has improved in recent months.

The onslaught unfolding as the weather improves has brought Ukraine's biggest military test since Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022. Slow deliveries of support by its Western partners, especially a lengthy delay in US military aid, have left Ukraine at the mercy of Russia's bigger army and air force.

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