President Biden on Saturday signed the bill granting $40 billion in aid to Ukraine, as the beleaguered nation ruled out a ceasefire and ceding territory to Russia.
The legislation, which passed the Senate Thursday 86 to 11, includes $20 billion in military assistance and intelligence support, $8 billion in general economic support, $5 billion to address global food shortages that could result from the collapse of Ukrainian agriculture, and more than $1 billion to help refugees.
The package brings the total value of US aid since the start of Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion to a staggering $54 billion.
The bill was signed by Biden while attending a state dinner in South Korea after it was delivered to the president under unusual circumstances. A US official carried a copy on a commercial flight to Seoul for the president to sign, after it was held up in the Senate for a week by Kentucky’s Rand Paul, according to a White House official.
The signing came a day after Russia’s most significant victory so far in the nearly four-month-old war, the capture of the port city of Mariupol, and on the day Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky marked the third anniversary of his inauguration.
“The war will not stop (after any concessions). It will just be put on pause for some time,” Zelenskiy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters. “They’ll start a new offensive, even more bloody and large-scale.”
Earlier, Zelensky indicated he might be willing to cede some of eastern Ukraine to Russia to spare the population.
“No one just gives anything away, but there is land that they entered and occupied, and there are some areas where they have advanced very far in,” Zelensky said at a news briefing . “To reach the line that existed before [February] 24th without unnecessary losses, I think … that would be a victory for our country.”
“We have broken the backbone of one of the strongest armies in the world. We’ve already done that. Including psychologically. They won’t get back on their feet for the next few years,” Zelensky said. “But let’s not forget that all our soldiers also want to live.”
Meanwhile Saturday, Russia banned 963 more American citizens from entering the country.
The largely symbolic “stop list” added most of the members of Congress, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — and Sen. John McCain and Defense Intelligence Agency Deputy Director Melissa Drisko who both died in 2018.
Another newly forbidden visitor is actor Morgan Freeman, who once appeared in a video criticizing Russia.
They joined a host of other Americans, including Biden, Hillary Clinton and Hunter Biden, who were banned from Russia a few weeks into the war.
In a statement, Russia’s foreign ministry said the people listed “incite Russophobia.”
In other developments:
- Russia’s Gazprom also stopped delivering gas to Finland. The shutdown comes days after Finland and Sweden applied for admission into NATO.
- Russia claimed it was cutting off the fuel deliveries because Finland refused to pay in rubles, which it demanded because of Western sanctions.
- Russian Transportation Minister Vitaly Savelyev said Western sanctions against Russia have “practically broken all” logistics corridors used by the country for trade, TASS reported. Moscow is looking into alternative trade routes such as one linking India with Central Asian countries, Russia and Europe through Iran, he said.
- Russia continued to batter multiple cities in the eastern part of the country, including Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, where the mayor said in a Telegram post thousands of buildings have been damaged or destroyed including nearly 170 schools, along with hospitals and other civilian infrastructure.
- In Sevierodonetsk, normally home to about 100,000 people, several thousand people remained to bear an unceasingly onslaught, including many elderly who refuse to abandon their homes. About 50 miles west of Sevierodonetsk, the town of Sviatohirsk was also shelled early Saturday, destroying a local school built in 2016 with help from the UN and Japan.
- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tweeted that he will host a meeting Monday of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which will include defense representatives from more than 40 countries. Prior to the meeting, he had a phone call with Ukrainian counterpart Oleskii Reznikovto discuss the country’s “military requirements,” his post said.
- Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who has objected to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, held phone calls with the leaders of both countries, during which he said he expects them to take concrete steps to address his concerns about terror groups finding support in Scandanavia.
With Post Wires