By Olena Harmash
KYIV (Reuters) -EU foreign ministers expressed support for Ukraine during a meeting in Kyiv on Monday, their first in a non-member country, after a pro-Russian candidate won an election in Slovakia and the U.S. Congress left Ukraine war aid out of its spending bill.
Kyiv brushed off concerns that support for its war effort was fading on both sides of the Atlantic, especially in the United States where Congress excluded aid to Ukraine from an emergency bill to prevent a government shutdown.
"We don't feel that the U.S. support has been shattered ... because the United States understands that what is at stake in Ukraine is much bigger than just Ukraine," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters as he greeted the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.
The omission of Ukraine from the U.S. spending bill sent pro-Kyiv officials scrambling to find the best way to secure approval for further assistance on top of the $113 billion in security, economic and humanitarian aid the U.S. has provided since Russia invaded in February 2022.
Leaders in the Senate, narrowly controlled by President Joe Biden's fellow Democrats, promised to take up legislation in the coming weeks on continued support. But in the Republican-led House of Representatives, Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he wanted more information from the Biden administration.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre urged Congress to act quickly.
As for the election victory of pro-Russian Slovak former Prime Minister Robert Fico, Kuleba said a new leader would still have to form a coalition and it was "too early to judge" the impact on politics there.
Monday's meeting in Kyiv was touted by Borrell as an historic first for the EU but it comes at an awkward time for the Western countries backing Kyiv.
With summer drawing to a close, Ukraine's counteroffensive has failed to produce the victories that Kyiv's allies had hoped to see before mud clogs the treads of donated tanks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, quoted by his website, said he was sure "Ukraine and the entire free world are capable of winning this confrontation. But our victory depends directly on our cooperation with you."
Borrell told a news briefing with Kuleba the EU remained united in its support for Ukraine. He had proposed an EU spending package for Kyiv of up to 5 billion euros ($5.25 billion) for 2024 which he hoped to have agreed by then.
Kuleba said it would help Ukraine and the EU to have clarity on the judicial aspects of transferring Russian assets frozen in the West to help fund Ukraine's reconstruction.
PREPARING FOR WINTER
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock sought help to prepare Ukraine for winter, including air defence and energy supplies, after Russia bombed energy installations last year.
"Last winter, we saw the brutal way in which the Russian president is waging this war," Baerbock said. "We must prevent this together with everything we have, as far as possible."
Moscow touted the congressional vote in the United States as a sign of increasing division in the West, although the Kremlin said it expected Washington to continue its support for Kyiv.
The omission of aid for Ukraine was "temporary", Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
"But we have repeatedly said before that according to our forecasts fatigue from this conflict, fatigue from the completely absurd sponsorship of the Kyiv regime, will grow in various countries, including the United States," he said.
Support for Kyiv has been mixed in the "Global South", prompting Kuleba to make visits to different countries, particularly in Africa.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador criticised as "irrational" U.S. military aid to Ukraine and urged Washington to devote more resources to helping Latin American countries.
"...How much have they destined for the Ukraine war? 30 to 50 billion dollars for the war," he told reporters. "Which is the most irrational thing you can have. And damaging."
In Western countries, elections are looming, above all next year in the United States where former President Donald Trump is leading the Republican field in his bid to return to the White House. Several right-wing Trump supporters in Congress have called for a halt to Ukraine aid.
Although most Republican lawmakers still support Kyiv, House speaker McCarthy was forced to rely on Democrats to pass the measure to keep the government open and might need them again to support any bill to fund Ukraine. Right wingers have threatened to try to remove him.
Kuleba said Ukraine had "a very in-depth discussion with both parts of the Congress - Republicans and Democrats", and expected aid to continue.
In Europe, pro-Russian former prime minister Fico won the most votes in the Slovak election and will get a chance to form a government. His campaign had called for "not a single round" of ammunition from Slovakia's reserves to be sent to Ukraine.
"We are not changing that we are prepared to help Ukraine in a humanitarian way," Fico told a news conference. "We are prepared to help with the reconstruction of the state but you know our opinion on arming Ukraine."
Fico was given two weeks to form a government. To do so, he would have to establish a coalition with at least one other party that does not publicly share his position on Ukraine.
Slovakia, a NATO state bordering Ukraine, has taken in refugees. Its outgoing government, has provided a major supply of weapons, notably being among the first to send fighter jets.
($1 = 0.9530 euros)
(Additional reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten, Charlotte Van Campenhout, Jan Lopatka, Jason Hovet and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Peter Graff and Ron Popeski; Editing by Jon Boyle and Stephen Coates)