WASHINGTON - The U.S. House emphatically approved a fresh $40 billion Ukraine aid package Tuesday as lawmakers beefed up President Joe Biden’s initial request, signaling a magnified, bipartisan commitment to thwart Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bloody three-month-old invasion.
The measure sailed to passage by a lopsided 368-57 margin, providing $7 billion more than Biden’s request from April and dividing the increase evenly between defense and humanitarian programs.
The bill would give Ukraine military and economic assistance, help regional allies, replenish weapons the Pentagon has shipped overseas and provide $5 billion to address global food shortages caused by the war’s crippling of Ukraine’s normally robust production of many crops.
The new legislation would bring American support for the effort to nearly $54 billion, including the $13.6 billion in support Congress enacted in March.
That’s about $6 billion more than the U.S. spent on all its foreign and military aid in 2019, according to a January report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which studies issues for lawmakers.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
- Russia pounds Odesa as civilian bodies uncovered elsewhere
- Biden signs Ukraine bill, seeks $40B aid, in Putin rejoinder
- German minister: Civilian killings demand accountability
The Ukrainian General Staff said its forces drove the Russians out of four villages to the northeast of Kharkiv as it tries to push them back toward the Russian border.
Meanwhile Tuesday, Ukrainian officials say Russian missiles pummeled the vital port of Odesa, apparently as part of efforts to disrupt supply lines and weapons shipments critical to Kyiv’s defense.
With the war now in its 11th week and Kyiv bogging down Russian forces in many places and even staging a counteroffensive in others, Ukraine’s foreign minister appeared to voice confidence that the country could expand its aims beyond merely pushing Russia back to areas it or its allies held on the day of Feb. 24 invasion.
Senators from both parties met with Oksana Markarova to discuss the war in Ukraine. Congress is preparing to provide $40 billion in military and humanitarian aid to help Ukraine defend against Russia’s military invasion.
Sen. Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says of the meeting: “It was a message of thanks, a call to support us to the end.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware says Markarova told lawmakers that Ukraine had already depleted its stockpiles of “Soviet-era weapons and equipment and material,” and that it was vital for the U.S. and others to resupply Ukraine.
“Thank you, do more. We have a hard fight ahead,” Coons said of Markarova’s message to lawmakers. “With your support, we can win.”
Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri says members of his party were satisfied with the ambassador’s explanation for how a previous bout of aid has been spent and describes the latest $40 billion initiative as a “survival package.”
BUCHAREST, Romania - U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres met with refugees from war-torn Ukraine in Moldova on Tuesday, saying after that “it is impossible to meet refugees and not be deeply moved by their stories.”
“One couple was telling me of a bomb that fell in their yard. People that have abandoned everything, including parts of their families,” Guterres told reporters outside the refugee center in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau.
Guterres previously served as U.N. high commissioner for refugees. He noted during his two-day visit to Moldova, where he met with Moldova’s leaders, that the small nation has absorbed the most refugees proportionate to its own population of about 2.6 million people.
The U.N. chief told Moldovan President Maia Sandu in a meeting Tuesday that the U.N. would bolster its support for her country to help it deal with the refugee crisis. More than 450,000 refugees from Ukraine have fled into Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries.
Before leaving Moldova, Guterres also visited the home of a local family hosting Ukrainian refugees, whom he thanked for their generosity in opening up their homes to those fleeing the war.
WARSAW, Poland - Poland’s prime minister said Tuesday that Russia’s ambassador to Poland could have avoided being doused in red paint at a Soviet military ceremony if he followed the Foreign Ministry’s advice to steer clear of the event.
Ambassador Sergey Andreev was splattered Monday with red paint thrown at him by protesters opposed to the war in Ukraine at a Warsaw cemetery holding the remains of Red Army soldiers who died during World War II. He had hoped to pay his respects on the Russian patriotic “Victory Day” holiday marking the defeat of Nazi Germany.
“Russian crimes in Ukraine are such a terrible experience for so many people that the ambassador’s presence at the memorial to Soviet soldiers was provocative,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, according to the Polish news agency PAP.
Andreev had to abandon the ceremony after the paint was thrown at him and he returned to his car under a police escort.
MILAN - The Italian Foreign Ministry says 63 Ukrainian orphans will be flown on Wednesday from Krakow, Poland to Trapani, Sicily.
The transport was organized by the Pope John XXIII Community, along with Italian diplomats in Ukraine and Poland.
“This humanitarian evacuation confirms Italy’s commitment to assisting civilians hit by the conflict in Ukraine,” the Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Some 37,000 minors, many accompanied by family members, have arrived in Italy since Russia launched its invasion.
VALLETTA, Malta - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Maltese lawmakers that despite pleas, Ukraine has not received the amount of weapons it would need to unblock the siege of Mariupol and free the city.
Zelenskyy said defenders “still continue their resistance in the plant of Azovstal. We are using all possible diplomatic instruments to rescue them, but Russia doesn’t allow for any of the proposed options. We have asked our partners to provide weapons in order to unblock Mariupol and rescue both civilians and military personnel.”
But he said the amount of weapons needed has not been provided. Zelenskyy said Ukrainian cities and towns have been hit by 2,250 missiles over the 2 1/2-month invasion. “The bombardment doesn’t stop, neither during the day, nor the night,’’ he said.
“If we cannot export wheat, barley, sunflower, sunflower seed oil, then it means that people in North Africa and Asia will be lacking food and the prices will go up,” Zelenskyy said. “Later, there could be new chaos and a new migration crisis, and I think you can feel this crisis in the neighboring regions to Malta.”
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced the shipment of a multimillion dollar aid package to Odesa, Ukraine, on Tuesday, including medical supplies and body armor.
The Maryland Department of Health is donating more than 485,000 bandages and wound care supplies, 95 Eternity mechanical ventilators for intensive care units and 50 Astral portable ventilators, the governor’s office said.
The package also includes nearly 200 pieces of body armor, including tactical vests and shields, which have been donated by the Maryland State Police.
Odesa is a sister city of Baltimore. Russian troops pounded the vital Ukrainian port on Tuesday, Ukrainian officials said, in an apparent effort to disrupt the supply lines and Western weapons shipments critical to Kyiv’s defense.
The governor was joined for the announcement at a warehouse in Hanover, Maryland, by Yaroslav Brisiuck, deputy chief of mission for the Embassy of Ukraine.
Additional medical supplies have been donated to the Paul Chester Children’s Hope Foundation, a Dickerson-based grassroots medical organization, to support the treatment of children and adults wounded during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
KYIV, Ukraine - German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, has accepted an invitation to join top diplomats from the Group of Seven nations later this week.
BOSTON - The United States, Britain, the European Union and other allies are collectively blaming Russia for a cyberattack that disrupted satellite communications used by Ukraine’s military just as Moscow invaded its neighbor on Feb. 24.
In addition to knocking out vital Ukrainian broadband service, the attack disabled tens of thousands of satellite uplinks from France to Poland, cutting service to private citizens and remote management of wind farms in central Europe.
In a statement, Britain noted that the attack began about an hour before Russia invaded. “We will continue to call out Russia’s malign behavior and unprovoked aggression across land, sea and cyberspace, and ensure it faces severe consequences,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted in a statement Tuesday that the attack on the satellite network of U.S.-owned Viasat was just one in a series of disruptive Russian digital assaults on Ukraine that began in mid-January. They have deleted and stolen data, disrupted telecommunications and attempted to knock out power to hundreds of thousands.
Tuesday’s announcement came as allied cyber security leaders met in Newport, South Wales, for a conference sponsored by Britain’s National Cyber Security Center. Ukraine had previously blamed Russia for the Viasat attack.
The Ukrainian GTS made the announcement Tuesday in a statement posted to its website. It said that the war made it impossible to reach areas of its system to ensure its safety, particularly in Russian-held areas of the Luhansk region.
The company said it would halt some 32.6 million cubic meters of gas per day with the decision. It described the situation as “force majeure,” a legal term used for so-called “acts of God” that prevent contracts from being carried out.
It said the shutoff would begin at 7 a.m. Wednesday and that it would offer Russia the chance to try to reroute gas through another crossing held by the Ukrainian government.
The operator said: “The company repeatedly informed Gazprom about gas transit threats due to the actions of the Russian-controlled occupation forces and stressed stopping interference in the operation of the facilities, but these appeals were ignored.”
Sergei Kupriyanov, a spokesman for Russia’s state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom, said Ukraine’s request to route shipments through another hub would be “technologically impossible” and that the company sees no grounds for the decision.
UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly for the Czech Republic to replace Russia on the world organization’s leading human rights body following its suspension over allegations of horrific rights violations by Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
The Czech Republic was the only candidate for the seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council. Seats on the Geneva-based council are divided among regional groups and a replacement for Russia had to come from an East European country.
In Tuesday’s secret ballot vote, 180 of the General Assembly’s 193 members deposited ballots. The result was 157 countries in favor of the Czech Republic and 23 abstentions.
The assembly approved a U.S.-initiated resolution on April 7 to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council by a vote of 93-24 with 58 abstentions. The vote was significantly lower than on two resolutions the assembly adopted in March demanding an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine, withdrawal of all Russian troops and protection for civilians. Both of those resolutions were approved by at least 140 nations.
After the General Assembly suspended Russia, its deputy ambassador Gennady Kuzmin told U.N. members that Russia withdrew from the Human Rights Council before the vote. Council spokesman Rolando Gomez said that by withdrawing, Russia avoided being deprived of observer status at the rights body.
Since its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Russia has lost its spot on multiple U.N. bodies, including the executive boards of UN Women and the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the Committee on Non-governmental Organizations and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. It was also suspended from the World Tourism Organization.
Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, who leads the Defense Intelligence Agency, disclosed the estimate Tuesday while testifying before a Senate committee.
Berrier told senators that because Russia lacks a non-commissioned officer corps, its generals have to go forward into combat zones and end up in dangerous positions.
HELSINKI - The Finnish Parliament’s defense committee is supporting the Nordic country seeking membership in NATO, saying it would be the best solution to guarantee the country’s security and would be a way to raise the bar on being the target of aggression by neighboring Russia.
The committee chairman Petteri Orpo, leader of the main opposition National Coalition Party, said in a statement that Finland’s security situation has drastically changed as a result of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Finland is expected to announce later this month whether it will seek to join the military alliance.
Recent polls show a support of over 70% among Finns for membership in NATO, a dramatic shift in support of 20-30% regularly recorded in the past few decades until Feb. 24 when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started.
Annalena Baerbock said Tuesday that the diplomatic mission would work with a skeleton staff, headed by Ambassador Anka Feldhusen.
Speaking after visiting the towns of Bucha and Irpin, where Russian soldiers are believed to have killed numerous civilians, Baerbock said there can “never again be impunity for the war crimes committed by Russia.”
She said Germany will provide funds to pay for two additional Ukrainian prosecutors who will investigate sexual violence committed during the conflict.
Baerbock also stressed that Germany will reduce its dependence on Russian energy supplies “to zero, forever.” The German government has said it will end imports of Russian oil and coal this year and of natural gas from Russia by 2024 at the latest.
GENEVA - The U.N.’s top human rights body will hold a special session this week following a request from Ukraine to discuss the worsening human rights situation in the country “stemming from the Russian aggression.”
The 47-member Human Rights Council said more than one-third of member states, the required minimum, backed the call that will pave the way for Thursday’s session at the U.N.’s European headquarters in Geneva.
Supporters included many Western countries, as well as Gambia, Marshall Islands and Mexico. A total of 55 countries, including observer states, backed the call, but the list could grow.
The council also held an “urgent dialogue” during its last session to discuss Ukraine just days after the Feb. 24 invasion by Russian forces.
KYIV, Ukraine - The governor of the eastern Luhansk region on Tuesday rejected Russia’s claims its forces have breached Ukrainian defenses near the city of Popasna and moved the region’s administrative borders.
In a Telegram post, Serhiy Haidai described the claim as “fantasies.” He insists that “the defense is strong. There are no breakthroughs.”
Moscow considers the eastern Ukrainian region a sovereign state.
In an interview with The Financial Times published Tuesday, Dmytro Kuleba said “the picture of victory is an evolving concept.”
“In the first months of the war, the victory for us looked like withdrawal of Russian forces to the positions they occupied before Feb. 24 and payment for inflicted damage,” Kuleba said.
“Now, if we are strong enough on the military front and we win the battle for Donbas, which will be crucial for the following dynamics of the war, of course the victory for us in this war will be the liberation of the rest of our territories,” the minister said.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the latest package of European Union sanctions against Russia, particularly highlighting a proposed ban on imports of Russian oil.
Zelenskyy told lawmakers in Slovakia’s Parliament on Tuesday that he understands Slovakia is not able to immediately replace Russian oil but stressed it is important to do so, calling it a price to be paid for freedom.
Slovakia, which is fully dependent of Russian oil, supports the sanctions but has asked for a three-year exemption from the ban until its key refinery Slovnaft makes technological changes needed to process other than Russia’s heavy oil.
Speaking through a translator, Zelenskyy also thanked Slovakia for its help in supplying his country’s military with the arms it needs. Acting at his request, Slovakia gave Ukraine its Soviet-era S-300 air defense system.
LVIV, Ukraine - Ukrainian officials say around 100 civilians still remain trapped at the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol despite earlier reports that all have been evacuated.
Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said in televised remarks on Tuesday those left behind are the civilians that “the Russians have not selected.”
“How and based on what criteria they take people out (of the plant) is something only the occupiers know,” Kyrylenko said. He explained that everyone in Mariupol “de-facto is held hostage by the Russians, and the occupiers take advantage of it, constantly changing the conditions of the evacuation.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Petro Andryushchenko, an advisor to the Mariupol mayor, also said civilians are still trapped at the Azovstal mill that is the last pocket of resistance in the embattled port city.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the two officials knew about the remaining civilians at the Azovstal plant and the fighters still there were yet to confirm this.
Hundreds of civilians had sheltered at the plant. Scores of them have been evacuated in recent days in a joint effort by Ukrainian authorities, the Russian military, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said that all women, children and elderly have been evacuated from Azovstal.
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