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Biden Unites With an Unlikely Ally to Champion Ukraine

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Biden Unites With an Unlikely Ally to Champion Ukraine

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President Biden turned to an unlikely ally on Friday in his drive to build support for Ukraine’s war effort as U.S. aid falters, declaring during a White House visit by the far-right prime minister of Italy that the two leaders “have each other’s backs” and “have Ukraine’s back.”

The warm tone, a striking departure from Mr. Biden’s assessment of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni when she was elected, extended to a number of foreign policy fronts, as the leaders sought to portray themselves as united on topics including confronting global migration and trying to prevent a broader war in the Middle East.

“As you said when we first met here in the Oval, Giorgia, that we have each other’s backs,” Mr. Biden said. “We do, and you’ve demonstrated that from the moment you took office.”

But Mr. Biden highlighted their unity on Kyiv’s efforts to fend off an invasion by President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia, creating a contrast with conservatives in Congress. “We also have Ukraine’s back,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s why I’m urging the House of Representatives to pass legislation” that would send billions of dollars to fund the war effort.

The meeting intensified an all-out assault by Mr. Biden to push stalled military aid for Ukraine through a reluctant Congress. He convened a meeting this week at which he sought to push Speaker Mike Johnson to allow a vote on aid. He has warned that the divisions over aid are a gift to Russia. And he has used meetings with European officials this year not only to ensure a united front against Russia’s invasion but also to pressure Congress.

In Ms. Meloni, Mr. Biden has found a surprisingly kindred spirit.

The Italian prime minister said on Friday that as the chairwoman of the Group of 7 nations, she was focused on “defending freedom and building peace for Ukraine.”

After being elected in 2022, Ms. Meloni has steered away from the most Russia-friendly elements of her coalition, and Italy recently agreed to sign a security agreement with Ukraine to help Kyiv’s defense industry.

Mr. Biden’s embrace of Ms. Meloni has come as a surprise after he expressed concern for democracy when she rose to power. Her party, the Brothers of Italy, has roots in the neo-fascist factions that emerged after World War II. She drew comparisons to former President Donald J. Trump after addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference in the United States in 2022.

“She hails from Europe’s far right, and her coalition contains influential voices that are much more pro-Russian and sympathetic to Putin than the European mainstream, yet she has bucked that trend and located Italy firmly in the trans-Atlantic camp that is committed to supporting Ukraine,” said Charles A. Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Europe adviser on the National Security Council in the Obama administration.

While she has advanced other far-right causes, such as anti-L.G.B.T.Q. policies, in Italy, Mr. Biden has seemed content to set those moves aside to secure an ally on critical foreign policy matters.

Ms. Meloni also could benefit from the global spotlight that comes with a visit to the Oval Office, Mr. Kupchan said, especially as she seeks to convince her own constituents of the importance of defending Ukraine.

“The domestic debate in Italy is, I would say, more skeptical of aid to Ukraine than in most other countries,” Mr. Kupchan said.

Ms. Meloni also stressed the need to discuss strategies to combat human trafficking driving global migration, particularly from North Africa. Mr. Biden too has recently made combating illegal migration a central focus of his administration. Just the day before his meeting with Ms. Meloni, he traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to push Congress to enact sweeping changes there.

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