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Zelenskiy urges speedy passage of Ukraine aid in US Senate, transfer of weapons

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LA Post: Zelenskiy urges speedy passage of Ukraine aid in US Senate, transfer of weapons
April 21, 2024
Humeyra Pamuk - Reuters

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sunday welcomed the passage of $60 billion in aid for Ukraine by the U.S. House of Representatives but urged Washington to quickly turn the bill into law and proceed with the actual transfer of weapons, saying long-range arms and air defense systems were top priorities.

In an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press", Zelenskiy said the passage of the bill would send a powerful message to Russia that Washington stands by Kyiv and that it would not be "a second Afghanistan."

"I think this support will really strengthen the armed forces of Ukraine and we will have a chance for victory," Zelenskiy said through an interpreter.

During the interview he repeatedly urged U.S. lawmakers to take swift action to pass the bill in the Senate. He said Ukraine urgently needed U.S. long-range weapons including ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) and air defense systems to turn around its fortunes on the battlefield.

"This is crucial. These are the priorities now," Zelenskiy said.

ATACMS are long-range guided missiles. The White House last October confirmed that it had provided Kyiv with a type of ATACMS capable of hitting targets up to 165 km (102 miles) away.

Ukraine had repeatedly asked the U.S. administration for the ATACMS and pledged not to use them  inside Russia's territory.

The U.S. House of Representatives, with broad bipartisan support, passed a $95 billion legislative package providing security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Aid for Ukraine had been held up for months, because of the opposition of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who urged Republican lawmakers to block it.

Almost 26 months since the 2022 invasion, Russia is slowly advancing in eastern Ukraine and has ramped up its bombardments of cities and towns behind the front lines amid a slowdown in Western military assistance.

The legislation now proceeds to the Democratic-majority Senate, which passed a similar measure more than two months ago. U.S. leaders, from Democratic President Joe Biden to top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, had been urging Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring it up for a vote.

The Senate is set to begin considering the bill on Tuesday, with some preliminary votes that afternoon. Final passage is expected sometime next week, which would clear the way for Biden to sign it into law.

WEAPONS IN TRANSIT NEXT WEEK

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner told CBS' "Face the Nation" that military equipment including the longer-range ATACMS should be "in transit by the end of the week".

"I believe the administration was prepared over the last couple of months to prepare or to provide ATACMS. It is written into this legislation," Warner said.

Ukraine last October said it has used the long-range missiles for the first time, inflicting heavy damage on two airfields in Russian-occupied areas.

Deploying the weapons would allow Ukrainian forces to disrupt previously unreachable supply lines, air bases and rail networks used by Russia in occupied territories, senior officials say.

Zelenskiy declined to provide a timeline when asked how long it would take Ukraine to "turn the corner on Russia" and whether Kyiv would need as much aid this time next year.

He said Kyiv had lost the initiative in the fighting in the eastern part of the country, but that once the weapons arrive it will have the chance to stabilize the situation.

"Giving U.S. specific timeline of the war, well, it depends on how soon we get this aid," he said.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Kaniskha Singh and Ron Popeski; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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