US approves $45 billion aid package for Ukraine
The United States House of Representatives on Friday approved a $45 billion aid package for Ukraine. The measure, part of a $1.66 trillion government funding bill that passed the Senate a day earlier, will now go to President Joe Biden for signing into law. This package follows U.S. aid worth about $50 billion sent to Ukraine previously this year.
The move comes after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s wartime visit to Washington this week.
Upon his return to Kyiv, Zelenskyy defiantly said Ukrainian forces “are working toward victory” despite Russia’s relentless artillery, rocket and mortar fire and airstrikes on Ukraine.
“We will overcome everything,” Zelenskyy pledged on Telegram. “We are coming back from Washington with … something that will really help.”
The U.S. promised Patriot missiles to help Ukraine fight against the Russian invasion. Zelenskyy has long asked for Patriot missiles to help counter Russian airstrikes, which have destroyed cities, towns and villages during 10 months of conflict and knocked out power and water supplies across the country over the past three months.
Zelenskyy thanked Biden and the U.S. Congress for supporting Ukraine’s fight against Russia.
U.S. officials say, however, that the single Patriot battery that Biden promised to supply to Ukraine will not change the course of the war.
Washington and its allies have been unwilling to supply Kyiv with modern battle tanks and long-range missiles called ATACMS, which can reach far behind front lines and into Russia itself.
Both Kyiv and the Biden administration are wary that retaining U.S. congressional support for aid could become more complicated once Republicans take a slim majority in the House in the new year. A few right-wing Republicans oppose aid, and other lawmakers have called for tighter budget oversight.
During a Friday visit to Tula, Russia, a center for arms manufacturing, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the country’s defense industry chiefs to do more to ensure that the Russian army quickly receive all the weapons, equipment and military hardware it needs to fight in Ukraine.
“The most important key task of our military-industrial complex is to provide our units and front-line forces with everything they need: weapons, equipment, ammunition and gear in the necessary quantities and of the right quality in the shortest possible time frames,” he said.
Britain’s Defense Ministry said Friday in its intelligence update on Ukraine that Putin has been “presented with plans to expand the Russian military by around 30% to 1.5 million personnel.”
The ministry said that the proposal was made Wednesday and that “Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu explained that the expansion would involve at least two brigades in northwestern Russia growing to divisional strength.”
The British defense minister explained Russia’s move by citing “the supposed threat from Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO.”
“This constitutes one of the first insights into how Russia aspires to adapt its forces to the long-term strategic challenges resulting from its invasion of Ukraine,” the ministry update said. “It remains unclear how Russia will find the recruits to complete such an expansion at a time when its forces are under unprecedented pressure in Ukraine.”
Zelenskyy’s Washington visit
In Western Europe, Zelenskyy’s visit to the U.S. Capitol was seen as symbolic, a message to the world that the U.S. will continue to support Ukraine in its fight for survival.
Observers in the region were pleased to hear Biden point to the need to “maintain NATO unity” when it came to arms supplies.
“This strongly suggests that it is not the U.S. but other influential NATO states that are not convinced of the need to support Ukraine even more intensively,” Polish historian Lukasz Adamski of the Mieroszewski Center in Warsaw told VOA.
Putin, however, said Zelenskyy’s trip only fueled the conflict.
“They say they may send Patriot there, fine. We will crack the Patriot, too,” Putin told reporters. He said the delivery of the battery “only drags out the conflict.”
In Ukraine, Zelenskyy’s Washington visit symbolized the war-honed relationship between two countries.
It was important for Ukrainians and Zelenskyy to convey their appreciation of the unwavering support the U.S. has shown their country, Mykola Davydiuk, a Ukrainian political analyst and director at Think Tank Politics, told VOA.
Putin said Russia is ready for talks with Ukraine on ending the conflict, despite his assessment that the U.S. delivery of a Patriot missile battery would extend it.
“One way or another, all armed conflicts end with talks,” Putin said. “The sooner this understanding comes to those who oppose us, the better. We never rejected the talks.
“We will strive for an end to this, and the sooner, the better, of course,” he added.
The White House quickly countered Putin’s comments.
John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, said Putin had “shown absolutely zero indication that he’s willing to negotiate” an end to the war that began with Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
“Everything he [Putin] is doing on the ground and in the air bespeaks a man who wants to continue to visit violence upon the Ukrainian people [and] escalate the war,” Kirby told reporters, according to Reuters.
Also Thursday, Kirby said U.S. intelligence officers had determined that North Korea had completed an initial shipment of arms, including rockets and missiles, to the private Russian military company Wagner Group last month. The action was seen as a sign of the group’s expanding role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The British government also condemned the shipment.
Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said no effort had been made for North Korea to supply weapons to Russia and dismissed the talk as “gossip and speculation,” Reuters reported.
The Russian mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry denied the reports, calling them groundless.
Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze contributed to this report. Some material for this article came from The Associated Press and Reuters.