FactCheck: Trump wrong on European aid to Ukraine
President Donald Trump wrongly said that “Europe and other nations” were “not” contributing to Ukraine, specifically calling for Germany and France to “put up money.” In fact, the European Union and European financial institutions have contributed more than $16.4 billion in grants and loans to Ukraine since 2014.
European countries have contributed an estimated two-thirds of all of the aid to Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and launched a conflict in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, according to Iain King, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
At the United Nations on Sept. 24, Trump told reporters that he had withheld U.S. assistance to Ukraine this summer because he wanted European countries to contribute. An intelligence community whistleblower complaint says that the White House Office of Management and Budget on July 18 notified other departments and agencies that the money was being withheld. The U.S. released the nearly $400 million in fiscal 2019 aid on Sept. 11.
“I’d withhold again and I’ll continue to withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine because they’re not doing it,” Trump said. “Everybody in the administration knows that what I want, and I insist on it, is that Europe has to put up money for Ukraine also. Why is it only the United States putting up the money? … Germany, France, other countries should put up money.”
At one point, Trump said the United States was contributing “the bulk of the money,” but also said it was “only” the U.S. contributing and that other countries were “not doing it.”
But other countries are doing it, and the U.S. isn’t even the majority contributor of total official development assistance.
According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, EU institutions top the OECD’s list of the top 10 donors of official development assistance to Ukraine, with $425.2 million contributed on average for 2016-2017. The U.S. was second with $204.4 million in assistance, closely followed by Germany, which contributed $189.8 million on its own, in addition to contributions it would have made through the European Union.
CSIS’ King, a former U.K. defense and foreign conflict specialist, detailed the aid the U.S. and other countries have provided to Ukraine in a Sept. 26 report. U.S. Agency for International Development figures King cited show the U.S. has contributed between $272 million and $513 million annually since 2014. As for military assistance, the U.S. has contributed about $800 million, “which includes small arms, counter-narcotics efforts, training programs, and military advisers to support and improve the Ukrainian forces, among others,” King wrote.
Those are sizable numbers, but the EU has given more. “The European Union is the largest donor to Ukraine” King wrote, estimating that the EU has given almost twice as much on average per year than the U.S. since 2014.
Maja Kocijancic, EU spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, told us in an email, “The European Union’s support to Ukraine is unprecedented. In these five years, we have put together for Ukraine the largest support package in the history of the European Union.”
A February 2018 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace echoes that, saying, “To its credit, the EU reacted quickly to the Ukraine crisis of 2014 by allocating generous funding for macro-economic stabilization.” The article said the assistance amounted to “the largest [macro-finance assistance] the EU has ever provided to a non-EU country.”
In 2014, Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russia president of Ukraine, was ousted by a revolution and fled to Russia, which then annexed Crimea and began a military conflict in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. About 13,000 people have been killed in that conflict as of late January, according to estimates from the United Nations. “There seems to be no end in sight to the conflict,” CSIS’ King wrote. “U.S., European, and NATO military and non-military support to Ukraine has been critical to helping the country defend itself against Russian military aggression. Non-military assistance has been equally important to help Ukraine stabilize its economy and continue on its reform track.”
Since 2014, the EU and European financial institutions have contributed more than $16.4 billion (15 million euros) in grants and loans, the EU spokesperson told us.
“As a staunch supporter of Ukraine and its democratic path, and recognising the unprecedented challenges Ukraine faces and the unprecedented reform efforts since the 2014 revolution, the European Union together with the European Financial Institutions have mobilised more than €15 billion in grants and loans to support the reform process, with strong conditionality on continued progress,” Kocijancic said. “These figures do not include the numerous contributions of individual EU Member States extended as bilateral support to Ukraine (we do not collect this info).”
The EU has a fact sheet on its assistance to Ukraine, which also has included economic sanctions against Russia, asset freezes and travel bans, and diplomatic efforts to find a resolution to the conflict.
Germany and France led efforts in 2015 to create the Minsk agreements, a plan for a resolution. “The EU has furthermore donated 40 unarmoured and 44 armoured vehicles, 35 trauma kits and provided training,” another EU fact sheet says.
In addition, NATO has contributed about $43.8 million from 2011 to 2019 “in areas such as command and control, cyber defence and medical rehabilitation,” according to a NATO official. King noted that through the NATO initiatives countries have contributed militarily in other ways, such as the United Kingdom and Canada sending and training troops. “Germany has lead the Radioactive Waste Disposal Trust Fund, while Poland and Lithuania have hosted high-level seminars on countering hybrid warfare,” he wrote. (Hybrid warfare combines military and nonmilitary actions, including disinformation campaigns.)
As for individual bilateral support, from 2014 to 2017, Germany contributed 786.5 million euros (about $860 million), according to a database maintained by the European Commission, and cited by CSIS. That database gets its figures from what’s reported to OECD and the International Aid Transparency Initiative.
The bilateral assistance from France was much smaller. The European Commission database shows nearly 62 million euros ($68 million) total from 2014 to 2017. Press Counselor Mélanie Rosselet at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., told us France’s assistance to Ukraine “goes mainly through our contribution to the EU budget,” adding that France was the second-largest contributor to that budget. Germany is the largest contributor.
A French government fact sheet on its position regarding Ukraine says it contributed 600,000 euros in humanitarian aid in 2018 and struck an agreement this year with Ukraine to build a new water treatment plant.
John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and now the director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, told our fact-checking colleagues at the Washington Post that the U.S. “is the largest provider of military aid to Ukraine” and that European countries typically provide the “soft power” to help stabilize nations.
The memo of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Trump brought up his complaint of the United States doing “[m]uch more than the European countries are doing and they should be helping you more than they are. Germany does almost nothing for you.” Zelensky agreed “1000%,” the memo said, but went on to say he wanted Germany and France to do more regarding sanctions against Russia. (The memo is not a verbatim transcript.)
Trump again referred to European contributions during a joint press appearance with Zelensky on Sept. 25, saying, “other countries should help Ukraine much more than they’re doing, Germany, France, the European Union nations.”
In his remarks, Zelensky said he wanted to “thank all the European countries” for their support. “They each help us.”