The United States approves $ 40 billion for Ukraine when Biden ends up behind Sweden, Finland offers NATO
AFP – The US Congress on Thursday approved a huge $ 40 billion package to Ukraine to help fight Russia’s invasion as President Joe Biden rallied behind Sweden’s and Finland’s historic NATO membership.
With unusually high bipartisan support, the Senate voted 86-11 to approve the package – equivalent to Cameroon’s GDP 2020 – after a senator briefly withheld the vote and alerted about the costs.
“Aid to Ukraine goes far beyond charity,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in support of the aid.
“The future of American security and key strategic interests will be shaped by the outcome of this struggle,” he said before the vote.
The package includes $ 6 billion earmarked for Ukraine to increase its stockpiles of armored vehicles and air defense systems.
Nearly $ 9 billion is set aside to help Ukraine ensure “government continuity” as well as humanitarian aid.
Congress already approved nearly $ 14 billion for Ukraine in mid-March, weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin shocked the world with his invasion, but most has been spent.
As Russian forces have given up on conquering Kyiv but intensified fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine, Biden has called for another round of financial aid.
The House of Representatives had approved the $ 40 billion package last week, but Rand Paul, like McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, prevented a quick vote in the Senate.
Paul, who opposes US interventionism, expressed concern about the cost and said lawmakers should have been clearer about how to pay for the package and to monitor where the money goes.
But Senator Lindsey Graham, a hawkish Republican who has previously demanded the assassination of the Russian president, said: “When it comes to Putin, either we pay now or we pay later.”
Shortly after the vote, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken released an additional $ 100 million in previously approved funding for Ukraine.
The funding will include 18 new howitzers and some counter-artillery radar, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
The United States has been trying for weeks to deter Russia from invading Ukraine and has responded with a sweeping campaign of pressure, including sanctions against Putin.
In a rare resumption of dialogue, the top US and Russian generals, Mark Milley and Valery Gerasimov, spoke by telephone on Thursday for the first time since the invasion, the Pentagon said.
Biden has thrown the Ukraine war as part of a US-led major democracy struggle against authoritarianism.
In the White House, he welcomed the red carpet to the leaders of Finland and Sweden days after they applied for NATO membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion.
“The conclusion is simple. Quite uncomplicated: Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger,” Biden said, offering “the full, total, full support of the United States of America.”
“Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong military and strong and transparent economies, and a strong moral sense of what is right,” said Biden together with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the White House Rose Garden.
“They meet all NATO requirements, and a little more,” Biden told assembled reporters without asking any questions.
Sweden and Finland have historically kept their distance from NATO as part of a long-standing policy aimed at avoiding teasing Russia, but they changed in the midst of shock over the invasion of Ukraine, which has unsuccessfully tried to join the alliance.
By drawing an implicit contrast to his predecessor Donald Trump, Biden called NATO’s mutual defense promise – that an attack on one is an attack on all – a “sacred commitment”.
“We will never fail in our promise to defend every inch of NATO territory,” Biden said, promising to defend Finland and Sweden while their applications await.
As with military funding, support for the membership of the two Nordic nations is strong in the US Senate, which must ratify all moves involving treaties.
But all 30 existing members must agree to add another nation and Turkey has expressed fears due to the presence in Sweden and Finland of Kurdish militants.
In his speech to Turkey, Niinisto said that Finland opposes “terrorism” and is “open to discussing any concerns you may have.”