Lawmakers put $40 billion Ukraine aid bill on fast track for approval


Final Congressional approval of a $40 billion Ukraine aid bill looks certain in days, as leading Senate Republicans said Wednesday they expect a strong Republican support for the measure passed by the House, signaling a bipartisan and increased commitment by the United States to help thwart Russia’s bloody invasion.

“I think there will be substantial support,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said of the legislation, which was approved by the House Tuesday night by a clear margin of 368-57. “We will try to process it as soon as possible.”

Senate Republican Leader No. 2 John Thune of South Dakota predicted “a big vote here” for the bill, which he and others said could happen Thursday but could spill over into next week. Mr Thune said some Republicans would vote against the bill and use procedural tactics to slow it down where possible, but he added: ‘I think because there is so much momentum to do this and do it in a timely manner that I don’t think we’ll have anyone who will support it.

As Russia’s whirlwind takeover of its smaller neighbor has now turned into a bitter war of attrition in eastern and southern Ukraine, a Kremlin official has condemned the planned increase in aid US in kyiv, calling it part of a Washington proxy war.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of the Russian Security Council and former president, said on a messaging app that the aid was motivated by the desire “to inflict a heavy defeat on our country, to restrict its economic development and political influence. in the world”.

The Kremlin left open the possibility of annexing a corner of Ukraine that it had seized at the start of the invasion.

Also on Wednesday, Ukraine’s top prosecutor unveiled plans for the first war crimes trial of a captured Russian soldier.

Attorney General Iryna Venediktova said her office charged the sergeant. Vadin Shyshimarin, 21, in the murder of a 62-year-old unarmed civilian who was shot while riding a bicycle in February, four days after the war began.

Economically, Ukrainian officials have shut down one of the pipelines that carry Russian gas across the country to homes and industries in Western Europe. It was the first time since the start of the war that kyiv had disrupted the westward flow of one of Moscow’s most lucrative exports.

The immediate effect will likely be limited, in part because Russia can divert the gas to another pipeline and because Europe relies on a variety of suppliers.

Lightning speed

On Capitol Hill, it took two weeks for lawmakers to receive President Biden’s initial $33 billion package, expand it, and move it to the brink of passage — lightning speed for a narrowly party-divided Congress. This reflects a bipartisan consensus that the outnumbered Ukrainian forces need additional Western assistance as soon as possible, with additional political pressure fueled by near-daily reports of atrocities against civilians inflicted by the Russian president’s military. Vladimir Poutine.

“Acting quickly, we must…” said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. “We have a moral obligation to stand with our friends in Ukraine.”

The latest legislation would bring US support for the effort to nearly $54 billion, including the $13.6 billion approved by Congress in March. That’s about $6 billion more than the United States spent on all of its foreign and military aid in 2019, according to a January report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which studies issues for lawmakers. .

Washington has become increasingly assertive about its goals and its willingness to help Ukraine with more sophisticated weapons. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said recently that the United States wants a “weakened” Russia that cannot quickly restore its ability to attack other countries.

Reports have emerged that US intelligence helped Ukrainians kill Russian generals and sink the Russian missile cruiser Moskva. The Kremlin reacted angrily.

The measure sailed through the House with the support of all voting Democrats. About a quarter of Republicans opposed it. The bill would provide $7 billion more than Mr. Biden’s April request, dividing the increase equally between defense and humanitarian programs.

The bill would provide military and economic assistance to Ukraine, aid regional allies, replenish weapons the Pentagon has shipped overseas and provide $5 billion to address global food shortages caused by the paralysis by Ukraine’s normally robust agricultural production war.

“As Putin desperately accelerates his campaign of horror and brutality in Ukraine, time is running out,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California.

Some Republicans have used the election season debate to accuse Mr Biden of not being clear about his goals in the matchup.

“Honestly, don’t we deserve a plan?” said Representative Michael Burgess, Republican of Texas. He said he agreed that Western countries should help Ukraine stand up to Russia, but added: “Doesn’t the administration need to tell us where are we going with this?”

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, attended separate Democratic and Republican Senate luncheons on Tuesday and expressed her gratitude for the support her country has received.

The new measure includes $6 billion to arm and train Ukrainian forces, $8.7 billion to restore US stockpiles of weapons shipped to Ukraine, and $3.9 billion for US forces deployed in the region. There is also $8.8 billion in economic support for Ukraine, $4 billion to help Ukraine and its allies finance the purchase of arms and equipment, and $900 million for housing. , education and other aid for Ukrainian refugees in the United States.

Raging battles

On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said a Russian rocket attack targeted an area around Zaporizhzhia, destroying unspecified infrastructure. There were no immediate reports of casualties. The southeastern city has been a refuge for civilians fleeing the Russian siege in the devastated port city of Mariupol.

Russian forces continued to shell the steel mill which is the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, its defenders said. The Azov regiment said on social media that Russian forces carried out 38 airstrikes in 24 hours on the grounds of the Azovstal steelworks.

The factory, with its network of tunnels and bunkers, housed hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians during a months-long siege. Dozens of civilians have been evacuated in recent days, but Ukrainian officials have said some may still be trapped there.

In his late-night address on Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hinted that Ukraine’s military was gradually drawing Russian troops away from Kharkiv, the country’s second city and a key Russian offensive in Donbass, the eastern industrial region whose capture , according to the Kremlin, is its main objective.

Ukraine is also targeting Russian air defenses and supply ships on Snake Island in the Black Sea in a bid to disrupt Moscow’s efforts to expand its control over the coastline, according to the UK Defense Ministry.

In the southern region of Kherson, the site of the first major Ukrainian city to fall in the war, a Kremlin-backed local leader said local officials wanted Mr Putin to make Kherson a “proper region” of Russia, that is, to annex it.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.

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