U.S. midterms won't weaken Washington's support for Ukraine, conference told

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the Halifax International Security Forum in a recorded message on Nov. 18, 2022. (CBC News - image credit)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the Halifax International Security Forum in a recorded message on Nov. 18, 2022. (CBC News - image credit)

A major international security conference started Friday in Halifax with repeated reassurances that the results of the U.S. midterm elections won't mean a major shift in U.S. support for Ukraine.

U.S. New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen told the opening panel at the Halifax International Security Forum that there's clear bipartisan support in Congress for the actions Washington has taken to support Ukraine — despite suggestions from a leading house Republican that the days of signing "blank cheques" for the embattled eastern European country are over.

Shaheen delivered her remarks in front of a large delegation of Ukrainians, including civil society activists and Ukraine's deputy prime minister.

She spoke after the conference watched a recorded address by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who pitched for support for the peace negotiation proposal his country put before the United Nations.

"I was pleased with the outcome of the elections in the U.S. because so many of those people who were the most extreme were defeated, and that was a good sign. It was a good sign for democracy," said Shaheen, who sits on the powerful Senate Armed Services committee.

"But one of the things that I think it's important to remind people [of] is that we continue to have very strong bipartisan support for the policies that the U.S. is engaged in, in supporting the Ukrainians in this unjust war."

Representatives on both sides of the aisle in Congress recognize, she said, that "this war is about a lot more than whether Ukraine is able to maintain their territorial integrity" and that the threat to wider international peace and stability can't be ignored.

Shaheen's comments were echoed later Friday by her New York colleague, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

"While there may be some in the Republican Party who don't want to fund additional humanitarian aid, additional aid for military support, additional support for refugee crises around the globe, I think the American people are behind American values of freedom and the ability of a country like Ukraine to fight for its freedom," Gillibrand said.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press
Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Defence Minister Anita Anand told the conference that every discussion she's had with U.S. cabinet secretaries has been reassuring and she doesn't sense a policy shift is on the horizon.

"In my conversations with [Defence] Secretary Lloyd Austin, I am hearing a very strong bilateral support for Ukraine. When Secretary [of State] Antony Blinken was in Canada, he reiterated this position," Anand told reporters at the opening of the forum.

"I expect that bipartisan support to continue. All conversations that I have had have pointed in that direction."

Russia wants a 'respite,' says Zelenskyy

Zelenskyy opened the conference with a short video delivered entirely in English. In it, he underscored the importance of setting the stage for negotiations through Ukraine's 10-point "peace formula," which includes the withdrawal of all Russian troops from his country, as well as energy and food security.

"Russia is now looking for a short truce, a respite to regain friends," Zelenskyy said.

"Someone may call this the war's end, but such a respite will only worsen the situation."

Ukraine has been under pressure from allies, including the United States, to lay out the conditions for peace negotiations. As he did with G-20 leaders recently, Zelenskyy warned that calls for territorial concessions are unacceptable.

"This [kind of] immoral compromise will lead to new blood," he said.

Olga Stefanishyna, Ukraine's deputy prime minister, said there are a number of points her country is prepared to move on but the world needs to remember who they're dealing with in Moscow.

"First and foremost, we are committed to negotiations. Every war ends up with negotiations," she said.

"But it's very clear to us that any attempt to negotiate with [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin is not a way towards success."