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Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

Ukraine puts on a brave face on U.S. aid despite potential government shutdown

Ukraine is trying to be optimistic in the face of a potential U.S. government shutdown and pause on additional funding for Kyiv.

Congress passed a stopgap bill on Saturday that extended government funding for 45 days in order to avoid a dramatic government shutdown. However, the bill, which will be in place until Nov. 17, did not include aid for Kyiv.

Ukraine already appears to be in an increasingly vulnerable condition with potential political shifts in Europe. And next year’s U.S. election could see sentiment shift around continued military, financial and humanitarian assistance for Kyiv.

Ukraine tried to put on a brave face on the funding uncertainty, with Oleg Nikolenko, spokesperson of Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, saying in a post on Facebook Sunday that “the situation with the temporary U.S. budget will not stop the aid to Ukraine that was announced earlier.”

“Instead, the potential “shutdown” of the American government could have a negative impact on the implementation of current programs for Ukraine,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.S. President Joe Biden in the Oval Office on Sept. 21, 2023.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

“Currently, the Ukrainian authorities are actively working with American partners so that the new U.S. budget decision, which will be worked out within the next 45 days, includes new funds for assistance to Ukraine,” he added. 

Nikolenko concluded his remarks by saying: “Let’s not forget that internal political discussions related to the American political process are ongoing in the USA. Support for Ukraine remains unwaveringly strong both in the U.S. Administration and in both parties and houses of the U.S. Congress, and most importantly, among the American people.”

U.S. President Joe Biden warned Sunday there is “not much time” to keep funds flowing to Ukraine, and urged Congress to “stop the games, get to work.”

Speaking in the White House, Biden said he was “sick and tired of the brinkmanship” and said his message on future aid for Ukraine was: “We’re going to get it done.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Pro-Russia populist wins election in Slovakia but must form coalition

A pro-Russian, populist party won the most votes in a parliamentary election in Slovakia over the weekend, casting into the doubt the country’s future support for ongoing military aid for Ukraine.

Robert Fico — who served as the country’s prime minister between 2006 and 2010 and again from 2012 to 2018 — and his Smer-SD party beat his progressive rival in the vote Saturday, having campaigned on a manifesto to end continuing support for Slovakia’s neighbor Ukraine. He also urged Russia and Ukraine to compromise to find a peace deal.

The Smer party won almost 23% of the vote, results from the Slovak statistics office showed Monday, but did not win an outright majority, meaning the party will need to form a coalition to govern.

Robert Fico, former Slovak prime minister and lead candidate of the Smer political party, arrives at its headquarters on Sept. 30, 2023, in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Janos Kummer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The pro-Western Progressive Slovakia party was second in the vote, with almost 18% of votes cast. The left-wing Hlas party, led by Fico’s former political colleague Peter Pellegrini came in third with almost 15% of the vote.

The party that takes the lead in forming a coalition, and the parties that coalesce around it, will determine the direction Slovakia takes in the coming years, Sili Tian, Europe analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said Friday.

“The choice is between a lurch to the right if far-right parties join up with Smer or a more centrist, pro-EU approach if Hlas and Progressive Slovakia join forces,” Tian said.

Coalition talks cannot take long as it’s likely that Fico will now have 30 days to present a Cabinet and its governing program for approval in Parliament by an absolute majority. If unsuccessful, the process can be repeated multiple times, according to Andrius Tursa, Central and Eastern Europe advisor at risk consultancy Teneo.

In a note Sunday, he said that “following a clear victory in the 30 September parliamentary elections, the populist SMER-SD party holds the best chance of forming the next government.”

“On the domestic front, the return of a SMER-SD-led government would likely bring setbacks in tackling corruption, pose a risk of democratic erosion, and heighten risks to foreign investors” while on the foreign policy front, “Bratislava would take a Euroskeptic and pro-Russian turn, which would strain relations with its key Western partners.”

— Holly Ellyatt

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