The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

Live updates: US Congress approves $40B aid package to Ukraine

Associated Press Friday, 20 May 2022, 07:03 Last update: about 2 months ago

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked the United States for the $40 billion aid package, which got final congressional approval on Thursday.

“This is a demonstration of strong leadership and a necessary contribution to our common defense of freedom,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address to the nation.

He also thanked the European Union for its support.

“And for our partners this is not just an expense or a gift. This is their contribution to security,” Zelenskyy said. “For defending Ukraine also defends them from new wars and crises that Russia could provoke if it is successful in the war against Ukraine. Therefore, we must together ensure that Russia’s aggression against our state has no success, not militarily, economically or any other.”

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Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s monthly budget deficit is $5 billion “and so to survive in the war for freedom, we need quick and sufficient financial support.”

The U.S. has announced a shipment of $100 million in military equipment to Ukraine, separate from what will be coming from the $40 billion approved by Congress. The latest package includes 18 more howitzers as well as anti-artillery radar systems, both of which the U.S. has provided to Ukraine already since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian troops were intensifying their attacks in the Donbas.

“It is hell there and that’s not an exaggeration,” he said in his nightly video address to the nation. “The brutal and completely senseless bombardment of Severodonetsk. Twelve dead and dozens wounded there in just one day.”

Zelenskyy said Russian strikes on the northeastern Chernihiv region included a terrible strike on the village of Desna, where he said many were killed and rescuers were still going through the rubble.

“The bombing and shelling of our other cities, the air and missile strikes by the Russian army, are not simply military operations in a time of war... It is a conscious and criminal attempt to kill as many Ukrainians as possible,” Zelenskyy said. “To destroy more homes, public sites, businesses. This is what will be qualified as genocide of the Ukrainian people and for which the occupiers will definitely be brought to justice.”

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A veteran Russian rock musician faces charges of discrediting the army for remarks made at a concert on Wednesday.

Charges against Yuri Shevchuk, singer for the band DDT, were sent to an administrative court on Thursday. He could face a fine of up to 50,000 rubles ($800).

After the war began, Russia passed a more severe law making the spread of “fake news” about the conflict punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

During the concert in Ufa, Shevchuk questioned the aims of the war and why young Russians and Ukrainians are fighting and dying in a war that is also costing the lives of civilians.

“Old people, women and children are dying,” he said. “For some kind of Napoleonic plans of our latest Caesar, yes?”

“The motherland, my friends, is not the ass of a president that you have to lick and kiss all the time. The motherland is a poor grandmother selling potatoes at the train station. That is the motherland,” he added.

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. has announced a shipment of $100 million in military equipment to Ukraine, separate from what will be coming from the $40 billion approved Thursday by Congress.

The latest package includes 18 more howitzers as well as anti-artillery radar systems, both of which the U.S. has provided to Ukraine already since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the equipment will be in the hands of Ukrainian forces “very, very soon.”

With this latest shipment, the U.S. has provided nearly $4 billion in military aid since Feb. 24 and $6.6 billion since 2014, when Russia seized and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.

Kirby said the U.S. will consult with Ukraine, as it has frequently since the invasion, about what it needs in terms of equipment.

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WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, the country's defense minister and the U.S. ambassador to Poland watched a joint military exercise dubbed DEFENDER-Europe 22 by Polish, U.S., French and Swedish troops in northeastern Poland on Thursday.

The troops’ task was to cross the Narew River near the town of Nowogrod, in a region about two hours’ drive from the borders of Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad and of Russian ally Belarus.

Duda said that, as Ukraine is fighting Russia’s invasion, everyone is “aware of the potential threat” in the region.

Duda said the exercise — which had been planned earlier — would help “show the cooperation and the efficiency of NATO in collective defense.”

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UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. food chief is warning that the war in Ukraine has created “an unprecedented crisis” of escalating food prices that has sparked protests.

World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley said growing hunger will add at least 47 million people to the 276 million “marching to starvation” before Russia’s invasion of its smaller neighbor.

Beasley told a U.N. Security Council meeting Thursday that 49 million people in 43 countries are already “knocking on famine’s door.”

He stressed that conflict, the impact of climate change including droughts and floods, and the COVID-19 pandemic were already dramatically affecting food security and he thought things couldn’t get worse. But then there was the war in Ethiopia, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and finally the war in Ukraine, a breadbasket of the world that he said grows enough food for 400 million people and now has “the longest bread lines in the world.”

He said leaders must help open Ukraine’s ports and increase food production.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte welcomed Sweden and Finland’s applications to NATO and expressed confidence that they would be approved despite Turkish opposition.

The pair met in The Hague on Thursday to discuss the situation in Ukraine and energy concerns, in Scholz’s first visit to neighboring Netherlands.

Both leaders indicated optimism that the Nordic countries would join the military alliance, but did not explain how other alliance members could overcome opposition by NATO member Turkey.

They were less positive about an accelerated process for Ukraine to join the European Union, which Kyiv requested following the Russian invasion.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has hailed the “momentous” applications of once-neutral Sweden and Finland to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Biden greeted Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland at the White House Thursday as they met for trilateral conversations on the NATO mutual defense pact and other European security concerns.

The Biden administration has professed optimism for the applications, which would mark a significant embarrassment to Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

Biden said both countries “meet every NATO requirement and then some.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that the alliance stop expanding toward Russia’s borders.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s prime minister says the NATO member nation would extend support to Finland and Sweden should they come under any threat or attack during their process of accession to the defense pact.

Premier Mateusz Morawiecki made the statement during a conference Thursday at the Polish Institute of International Affairs think tank.

Morawiecki said. he “would like to say it clearly that in the case of an attack on Sweden or Finland during their process of accession to NATO Poland will come to their aid.”

Poland lies on NATO’s eastern flank, bordering Ukraine and Russia’s exclave of Kaliningrad.

Morawiecki also said he believes NATO should have permanent bases on its eastern flank.

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s leader opposes having Sweden and Finland join NATO, but the military alliance’s top official says he expects the issue to be resolved and the two Nordic nations to become members soon.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday he was ”confident that we will come to a quick decision to welcome both Sweden and Finland to join the NATO family.”

Stoltenberg told reporters in Copenhagen, Denmark that “we are addressing the concerns that Turkey has expressed.”

Turkey’s approval of Finland and Sweden’s application to join the Western military alliance is crucial because NATO makes decisions by consensus.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a video released Thursday, “We have told our relevant friends we would say ‘no’ to Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO, and we will continue on our path like this.”

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BERLIN — German lawmakers agreed Thursday to strip former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of his office and staff after he defended his long-standing ties with Russia and its energy sector despite the invasion of Ukraine.

Sven Kindler, a financial policy spokesman for the Greens, one of the governing parties, tweeted that parliament’s budget committee approved a change to the rules that would leave Schroeder’s office “dormant.”

The move was expected after lawmakers with the governing coalition — led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, Schroeder’s party — on Wednesday proposed linking some of the privileges former chancellors enjoy to duties, rather than their status as ex-leaders.

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WASHINGTON -- Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s team is on Capitol Hill urging U.S. senators to consider a fresh round of sanctions on Russians with a more “nuanced” approach that targets mid-level government officials and public figures over the war in Ukraine.

The group is discussing with senators a list of 6,000 Russians, including defense and security officials, administrative employees, governors, members of parliament, even editors and managers at Russian media operations for sanctions.

It is also planning to meet Thursday with officials at the U.S. State Department, the Justice Department and other offices in Washington.

Vladimir Ashurkov, the executive director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said the “avalanche of sanctions” imposed so far is having an effect in Russia.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has reiterated concerns about the risk of the war in Ukraine spreading to surrounding countries, as he hosted the president of Moldova, Ukraine’s neighbor.

Macron said Thursday that “a spread of the conflict to neighboring countries cannot be excluded” pointing to “recent incidents” in the Transnistria region of Moldova, where Russian troops are already stationed and where there have been explosions.

“France remains particularly alert to the security situation in the region,” the French leader said.

He praised Moldova’s help for refugees from Ukraine. The small, Western-leaning former Soviet republic is coping with an influx of refugees. Macron appealed to European leaders to give a rapid initial response to Moldova’s application to join the European Union.

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BERLIN -- The U.N. nuclear watchdog says Ukraine has informed it new wildfires near the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear plant don’t pose a radioactive threat to people.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday that Kyiv told it gamma dose rate levels near the plant, the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, were “not exceeding the reference levels.”

It said previous experience suggests such fires could lead to a “very small increase” of radioactive concentration in the air but the IAEA supports Ukraine’s assessment that it wouldn’t endanger human health. It noted “spontaneous fires” often occur in the area this time of year.

Russian forces took control of Chernobyl at the beginning of the invasion in February and withdrew at the end of March.

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BERLIN — The Group of Seven countries are launching a new Global Alliance for Food Security that is aimed in part at addressing the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

German Development Minister Svenja Schulze said Thursday after meeting her counterparts from the G-7′s major economies that the aim is to better coordinate the efforts of aid donors and to ensure that looming crises don’t get overlooked.

She said the G-7 will seek to bring as many partners on board as possible, including emerging countries that may have supplies. The alliance “is really open. It’s not a closed club,” Schulze said. The World Bank is helping to implement the project.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has produced a sharp increase in food and energy prices. Both countries are big exporters of wheat, barley and sunflower oil.

The head of the U.N. Development Program, Achim Steiner, said, “Right now, we need all hands on deck. The question is, can we get the all hands on deck to also work in a well-coordinated fashion?”

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MOSCOW — The Kremlin says it will be up to residents of areas in Ukraine controlled by Russian troops to determine their future status.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that people living in such places must “determine how and with whom they want to live.”

Peskov made the statement during a conference call with reporters after being asked about some Russian officials saying that Russia could move to incorporate the captured Kherson region of southern Ukraine.

The Kremlin spokesman responded by saying that authorities need to focus on providing basic services to the residents of areas under Russian control.

Asked about a plan reportedly proposed by Italy for a political settlement of the fighting in Ukraine, Peskov said the Kremlin was unaware of it but only learned about it from media reports.

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BERLIN — Germany’s health minister pledged Thursday to help Ukraine maintain its health system, which has come under severe pressure due to the war with Russia.

Karl Lauterbach said Ukraine’s health minister, Viktor Liashko, briefed his counterparts from the Group of Seven leading democracies during a meeting on Thursday.

Lauterbach said Germany would help establish specialist centers in Ukraine for people suffering from burns and severe trauma due to the war.

Liashko also asked for more prostheses to help people who have lost limbs in the war.

“It’s sad but true that many civilians have lost limbs,” Lauterbach said. “Among them are many children.”

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BRUSSELS — European Union lawmakers are calling for extra funding to help citizens deal with the impact of sanctions against Russia and the financial support being dedicated to help Ukraine.

In a resolution passed Thursday with a show of hands, the lawmakers defended EU sanctions against Russia and Belarus but said the measures were hurting post-pandemic economic growth and “pose a serious threat to the EU’s recovery.”

The resolution seeks help for households and companies, possibly through a profit tax on energy companies or a revamp of the EU budget, to “maintain citizens’ support for the actions taken against Russia and other actions to support Ukrainians.”

The lawmakers also called for European allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, such as former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, to resign. In addition, they think European board members of big Russian companies should be hit with sanctions.

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