Europe must defend itself with US support in doubt, UK’s Grant Shapps says

LONDON — Europe needs to take responsibility for its own security amid signs that American military backing for Ukraine is starting to wane, United Kingdom Defense Secretary Grant Shapps warned on Monday. 

At a press conference in London, Shapps said European governments needed to stop relying on the U.S. to “ride in to the rescue,” 22 months after Russia’s full-scale invasion began. Increasing military spending will be key to strengthening Europe’s ability to defend itself, he said. 

Lawmakers in Washington are still arguing over a multibillion-dollar tranche of aid for Kyiv, while EU governments can’t agree on their own package of support.

“I actually genuinely do think Europe needs to step up and look after its own security,” Shapps said. “We can’t carry on expecting the U.S. to always ride in to the rescue of Europe.”

Shapps made his remarks at a highly sensitive time for Ukraine’s war against Russian invaders, amid growing indications that Western resolve may be faltering. In the U.S., Republicans are blocking President Joe Biden’s emergency plan for more than $100 billion in support for Ukraine, Israel and other national security priorities.  

And in Europe, EU countries are struggling to agree on whether to send 50 billion of aid to Ukraine, ahead of a summit of the bloc’s leaders in Brussels later this week. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is refusing to back the latest tranche of spending and resisting moves to open the door for Ukraine to join the EU. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is traveling to Washington this week in an attempt to win over reluctant lawmakers. 

Shapps also had a message for congressional leaders in the U.S., warning that other adversaries will be emboldened if Vladimir Putin is not stopped in Ukraine. “I believe it’s in America’s interests as well,” he said. 

“But Europe absolutely needs to step up. It’s one of the reasons why we are working to increase our military spending as well.” Shapps did not commit to matching the U.K.’s financial support for Ukraine in the years ahead, saying support was “not just about the money” as the war entered a “new phase.”

Shapps and his Norwegian counterpart Bjørn Arild Gram announced details of a new Maritime Capability Coalition for Ukraine, which the two countries are leading. Shapps said more than 20 countries are joining the alliance.

Ukraine has struck a deal to get two British Royal Navy minehunter vessels but under the Montreux Convention it cannot get the ships into the Black Sea through the Turkish Straits while the war is ongoing.

The ships will help clear mines, saving lives and helping facilitate the grain trade in the future. “As soon as we win this war, they will have lots of work to do in the Black Sea,” Ukraine’s Navy chief Oleksiy Neizhpapa told the press conference.