NATO chief huddles with Trump allies in longshot Ukraine funding push

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Monday kicked off a critical trip to the U.S., where he’ll meet with Biden administration officials, lawmakers and allies of former President Donald Trump in a high-stakes bid to unlock $60 billion in funding for Ukraine.

The longest-serving chief in the alliance’s history will deliver a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday, a conservative think tank that’s closely aligned with Trump. The visit comes as Trump and allies press Republicans to reject a $111 billion package that includes aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan over a disagreement with the White House on border policy.

Stoltenberg will likely find a skeptical audience at Heritage — which has advocated for Europe to take the lead in supporting Ukraine while the U.S. shifts its focus to the Indo-Pacific.

On Monday, Stoltenberg sat down with a friendly audience at the Pentagon, where he met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon to talk about Ukraine.

“NATO allies are providing unprecedented support to Ukraine, and it’s important that we continue to do so,” Stoltenberg said before the meeting. “Our support is not charity; it’s an investment in our own security because the world will become more dangerous if President Putin wins in Ukraine.”

Stoltenberg will swing through Congress on Tuesday, meeting with House Speaker Mike Johnson, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and others from both parties. The Senate side could soon release language on the border policy, yet some members in the House say it’s dead on arrival.

Later in the week, he will head to Lockheed Martin’s missile plant in Alabama, where he will likely repeat the argument from President Joe Biden and others that American jobs rely on U.S.-supplied aid to Kyiv.

Those messages will be aimed at the GOP’s growing isolationist wing and lawmakers debating Biden’s request for Ukraine aid, which has been stuck for months.

The Ukraine pitch continues to be a tough one as Kyiv and Moscow for the moment appear to have fought themselves to a stalemate, with neither side able to muster enough combat power to make any significant breakthroughs.

“We do not expect huge changes on the front line” this year, one NATO military official told reporters this month. The official was granted anonymity to discuss operational assessments of the war. “We all agree on the fact that Ukraine’s counteroffensive has not produced all the effects that were expected. But that doesn’t mean Russia is winning, despite Russian propaganda.”

The war at this point is a “long-term engagement” that is “tied to the show of American leadership that we all support and encourage,” the NATO military official said.

Still, Stoltenberg has notched some significant successes to tout this week as a prelude to the alliance’s 75th anniversary celebration in Washington in July.

Countries such as Poland, Romania, France, Germany, the U.K. and the Baltic states have increased their defense budgets by tens of billions of dollars, while new member Finland and soon-to-be member Sweden have also pledged huge new investments in defense.

He’ll also have a story to tell about how NATO countries are increasing defense production and are trying to broker deals with Ukrainian arms manufacturers to begin rebuilding Kyiv’s capacity for producing its own weapons — a message of self-reliance that will surely find a welcoming audience in Washington.

“There seems to be a lot of interest, both on the Ukrainian side and on the U.S. [defense] industry side about what they can do in order to work with Ukrainians,” Mira Resnick, who runs the State Department’s Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers, said in an interview.

“What I’ve heard from industry is that they are really impressed with the Ukrainians, and that there is real opportunity there because of what the Ukrainians have been able to accomplish and the idea of bending the technology to their will,” to produce their own drones and retrofitting western missiles and rockets on their Soviet-era aircraft and missile launchers, she said.

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