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Potential of a Trump return inspires Biden and G7 rush to guarantee long-term support for Ukraine

By Kevin Liptak, CNN

(CNN) — President Joe Biden and fellow G7 leaders meeting on the coast of Italy this week are working to harden support for Ukraine and rush western resources to the country as they look uneasily toward November’s US election, which could portend a shift in American stance.

The plans to hasten tens of billions of dollars to the besieged nation and ink a security agreement between Washington and Kyiv that helps Ukraine achieve self-sufficiency were intended to demonstrate resolve – and a degree of political creativity – amid Russian battlefield momentum.

“Collectively, this is a powerful set of actions, and it will create a stronger foundation for Ukraine’s success,” Biden said during a news conference Thursday alongside his counterpart from Kyiv, Volodymyr Zelensky, who wore his usual army green uniform.

Calling Russia’s invasion a “test for the world,” the US leader said he and his allies at the G7 had consistently answered “yes” to the question of whether they would stand by Ukraine.

“We will say it again,” he said. “Yes, again and again and again.”

Yet whether the measures agreed to this week can withstand another Donald Trump presidency remained something of an unknown. As Biden was finalizing his agreements in Italy, Trump was meeting with Republicans on Capitol Hill, where he once again made clear he didn’t want to see another $60 billion in aid flowing to Ukraine, according to a person familiar with his comments. Trump argued, as he had before, that if he were president the war wouldn’t still be going.

Opposed to additional Ukraine aid and openly skeptical of NATO, Trump could rip up the bilateral agreement Biden signed Thursday if he returned to office.

“If Trump is inaugurated at noon on the 20 of January next year, by about five after noon he could have dissolved this agreement in its entirety,” said John Bolton, a former national security adviser to Trump. “So, if you can’t bind a future president who doesn’t want to be bound, and that includes getting out of treaties, which this isn’t even a treaty, I think there may actually be a bit of a downside here when Trump hears about this and concludes they’re trying to lock him in, that will just make him more irritated.”

Such a move would be in keeping with Trump’s decisions during his previous term to abandon foreign policy agreements negotiated by his Democratic predecessor, including the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal. Few European diplomats hold out hope for a change in tactic a second time around.

The memories from those years are still fresh for some G7 leaders and have helped drive the urgency in finding ways to funnel support to Ukraine at this year’s summit, before Trump’s prospective return.

Speaking at the news conference with Biden, Zelensky said it was up to the American people to demonstrate to their leader – whoever he is – that standing with Ukraine is a priority.

“It seems to me that no matter whom the nation chooses, first and foremost, it seems to me that everything depends on the unity within this or that state,” he said through a translator. “And if the people are with us, any leader will be with us in this struggle for freedom.”

Upcoming US election sparks urgency

The forthcoming election helped create an impetus to finalize a long-debated plan to give Ukraine a $50 billion loan using interest earned on frozen Russian assets. American and European diplomats had been working through the technicalities of such a proposal for months.

European officials were initially reluctant, raising concerns that they could be on the hook if Ukraine failed to pay back the loan, the investments generated less profit or the assets get delivered back to Russia as part of a peace deal.

Yet with uncertainty swirling around any American support in the future, the time to act appeared short. That the differences were resolved during a heated US election, in which one of the candidates openly opposes providing Ukraine any more aid, was not lost on many of the negotiators.

“There was shared recognition here in Puglia by every G7 member that the situation on the battlefield remains difficult, and that if the war continues, Ukraine is still going to have a large financial need next year and beyond, and that this summit is our best chance to act collectively to close the gap,” a senior US administration official said. “This agreement is a signal from the leading democracies of the world that we’re not going to fatigue on defending Ukraine’s freedom, and that Putin is not going to outlast us.”

Officials said Ukraine would receive the first payments from the scheme sometime this year but would need additional time to use up all of the money being sent.

“It is a very strong message to make sure that it is not us paying for the Russian damage, but it is Russia who has to pay,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

Security deal faces uncertain future in a Trump presidency

The deal, in the end, was about more than just money. It was proof, in Biden’s mind, that likeminded allies can overcome differences for the greater good — in this case, helping a besieged democratic nation rebuild its infrastructure after an invasion by Russia.

So, too, was his decision to sign a bilateral security accord with Zelensky intended to demonstrate long-term American commitment – even though the agreement has no guarantee of surviving if Trump wins.

The agreement follows months of negotiations between the US and Ukraine and commits the US for 10 years to continued training of Ukraine’s armed forces, more cooperation in the production of weapons and military equipment, the continued provision of military assistance and greater intelligence sharing.

Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan called the pact a “real marker” of the American commitment to Ukraine “not just for this month and this year, but for the many years ahead.”

And Biden, speaking in Italy, said the pact was designed to make Ukraine more self-sufficient — and, by extension, less dependent on shifting American sentiments.

“Our goal is to strengthen Ukraine’s credible defense and deterrence capabilities for the long term,” he said. “A lasting peace for Ukraine must be underwritten by Ukraine’s own ability to defend itself now and to deter future aggression anytime in the future.”

Still, the pledge is an “executive agreement,” making it less formal than a treaty and not necessarily binding for any future presidents. And it does not contain any new money and is instead “subject to the availability of appropriated funds,” according to its text.

After a drawn-out battle this year with congressional Republicans to pass $60 billion for Ukraine — causing Biden to apologize last week for delays that US officials say helped Russia regain momentum on the battlefield — there is little likelihood the president will go back to Congress this year for additional funding.

Biden pushes G7 to back reproductive rights

Even on an issue unrelated to Ukraine, Biden sought this week to consolidate G7 support in a way that would be unlikely if Trump were to return to the summit.

Behind the scenes, he and US officials pushed to keep language about reproductive rights in a G7 leaders’ statement after the summit host, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, sought to strip some language from the document, according to American officials.

The back-and-forth illustrated some of the fraught dynamics at play at the summit. Biden has worked to make protecting abortion rights a centerpiece of his reelection bid, and a key point of contrast with Trump.

“The president felt very strongly that we needed to have at the very least the language that references what we did in Hiroshima on women’s health and reproductive rights,” a senior US administration official said, referring to last year’s G7 summit in Japan.

In that document, leaders reiterated their support for “access to safe and legal abortion and post abortion care.” It also expressed “strong concern about the rollback of women’s and girls’ rights.”

The trip to the rocky Adriatic coast this week is likely to be Biden’s final time abroad before November’s elections, and a final moment to harden alliances in person and seal agreements before the unknowable outcome of the vote.

American allies in Europe are collectively preparing for a second Trump administration with a sense both of trepidation and exhaustion. During diplomatic visits and quiet pull-asides at summits like the G7, it is a topic of constant conversation.

French luminaries who were invited to the Élysée Palace last week for a state dinner in honor of Biden openly discussed their anxiety about Trump’s potential return to the White House, according to a person who attended.

Those who lived through the experience the first time around have little appetite for a return to the open animosity and norm-busting rituals that came with Trump wherever he went, be it battles over climate on a cliffside in Sicily, haggling on trade in the forests of Quebec or an argument over readmitting Russia at a lighthouse in Biarritz.

By the end of his term, Trump had begun questioning the utility of attending the gatherings at all, fed up with what he saw as an unpleasant and unwelcoming experience.

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