Large U.S. delegation at Munich conference underscores bipartisan support for Ukraine

Munich Security Conference
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appears on the screen during the Munich Security Conference, in Munich, Germany February 17, 2023. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

MUNICH, Germany Feb 17 (Reuters) - Nearly 50 lawmakers from both major U.S. political parties on Friday attended the start of Europe's premier annual security conference to affirm bipartisan support for U.S. aid to Ukraine.

Four delegations of Democratic and Republican leaders and members of the Senate and House converged as one of the largest groups of U.S. lawmakers to attend the Munich Security Conference since its inception in 1963, U.S. officials said.

Hundreds of politicians, military officers and diplomats from around the world gathered in Munich a week before the anniversary of Russia's invasion, with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urging allies to speed up weapons deliveries.

The war has tested not only the unity of the NATO alliance and European Union, but the ability of the U.S. parties to overcome deep policy differences.

"We are here to send a clear message to this conference and everyone around the world: the U.S. is on a bipartisan basis totally behind the effort of help Ukraine," Mitch McConnell, the Democratic-controlled Senate's Republican minority leader, told Reuters after meeting conservative German politicians.

Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder said McConnell's unequivocal support for Ukraine was welcome after the uncertainty of the former President Donald Trump administration's isolationist America First policy.

"Today is a very good signal," he said.

Other prominent U.S. lawmakers in Munich included Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, former House speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Republican chairmen of the House foreign relations and intelligence committees and their Democratic Senate counterparts.

The Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in last year's mid-terms raised questions about the future of the U.S. aid on which Kyiv depends to halt a new offensive by Russia in a war that has killed thousands and displaced millions.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy declared there would be no "blank check" for Ukraine and far-right Republicans hold that resources are needed to address other pressing problems.

Some senators share that view. On Thursday, Republican Senator Josh Hawley had urged an end to U.S. military aid to Ukraine until the European allies increased their backing, saying sending arms to Kyiv was threatening the United States' ability to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

But Lindsey Graham, a leading advocate of aiding Ukraine, said in Munich that China would be encouraged to invade Taiwan if the United States and its European allies failed to back Ukraine.

"If you care about China and you don't get the connection between Russia, Ukraine and China, you are missing a lot," Graham told Reuters.

But Republicans and some Democrats also say President Joe Biden's administration should better explain its Ukraine policy.

The United States is Ukraine's leading military aid supplier at some $30 billion, including long-range artillery, air defence systems and advanced armored vehicles.

There are now calls on both sides of the Atlantic for Ukraine to receive advanced Western fighter jets.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Andreas Rinke; editing by Matthias Williams and Angus MacSwan

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