Monday, May 20, 2024

‘Thank You America!’: Ukraine’s Zelensky and Israel’s Netanyahu hail House passage of $95 billion foreign aid package | CNN

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Kyiv
CNN
 — 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu have thanked US lawmakers after they voted in favor of new aid packages for their countries worth billions of dollars.

“Thank you, America!” Zelensky wrote on his Telegram on Saturday, shortly after the House of Representatives passed the long-delayed Ukraine Security Supplemental Appropriations Act by a vote of 311-112.

The bill was part of a wider $95 billion package providing foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific region. It provides nearly $61 billion to help Ukraine and others in the region fight Russia, while the House also passed funding worth $26.4 billion for Israel and $8.1 billion to counter China’s actions in the Indo-Pacific.

Zelensky said the decision would keep “history on the right track.”

“Democracy and freedom will always have global significance and will never fail as long as America helps to protect it. The vital US aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger. Just peace and security can only be attained through strength,” Zelensky added.

Meanwhile, the House passed the Israel Security Supplemental with a vote of 366-58.

“Thank you friends, thank you America!” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a post on social media, adding that the bill demonstrates “strong bipartisan support for Israel and defends Western civilization.”

However, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the aid package for Israel, describing it as a “dangerous escalation” and act of aggression that would lead to more Palestinian casualties in Israel’s war on Hamas.

The measures still need approval from the Senate, which could begin voting on them as soon as Tuesday.

US President Joe Biden said the House passage of the foreign aid bills sent a “clear message” about America’s leadership to the globe, and urged the Senate to “quickly send this package to my desk so that I can sign it into law.”

The passing of the measures for Ukraine following months of resistance by some Republicans is seen by some as a potential turning point in the country’s fight against Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine’s foreign minister told CNN the risk of a larger war in Europe had fallen following the vote.

“This is a historic day, when not only Ukraine got a boost of hope, but also the United States and all of the free world,” Dmytro Kuleba said.

Ensuring Russian President Vladimir Putin is defeated in Ukraine would protect the security and prosperity of Americans, he added.

“Enabling Ukraine to push back Russian aggression is equal to preventing a larger war in Europe and averting the risk of all wannabe aggressors plunging our world into chaos,” Kuleba said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova criticized the move, insisting to CNN in a statement Saturday that the aid package would only increase tensions.

“The allocation of US military aid to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan will exacerbate global crises: military aid to the Kyiv regime is direct sponsorship of terrorist activity, to Taiwan is interference in China’s internal affairs, and to Israel is a direct path toward escalating unprecedented aggravation in the region,” the statement read.

Democratic lawmakers wave Ukrainian flags after the House passed the Ukraine Security Supplemental Appropriations Act.

Three Ukrainian servicemen told CNN the vote provided a much-needed shot in the arm — and all three fighters were clear on the weapons they now need from the United States.

“We thought that our partners had forgotten about us,” an intelligence officer with the call sign Bankir, currently serving in the Zaporizhzhia region, said in a phone conversation. “This news gives us a sense of support and understanding that we have not been forgotten.”

An artillery reconnaissance commander with the 110th mechanized brigade, who spent two years defending the industrial town of Avdiivka before it fell to Russia in February, had a similar message.

“When we feel support from the outside, it motivates us. After all, the military knows it cannot win with sticks and bows and arrows,” the commander, using his call sign Teren, told CNN. “For people who want to defeat the enemy, this news is a great morale booster.”

He went on: “To win, we need ammunition … we really need artillery shells because we have an artillery hunger. We also need drones, both reconnaissance and attack drones.”

Another soldier, Dmytro Kurylovich, fighting in eastern Ukraine with the National Guard, identified air defense and artillery as top priorities.

“First of all, we need air defense systems and artillery shells […] All big cities need air defense systems. Artillery is needed so that we can conduct a counter-offensive and fight back. If we have enough artillery, we will be able to liberate our territories faster and change the situation at the front,” he said in an audio message to CNN.

“Morale changes depending on whether there is ammunition,” he added, throwing into sharp relief the impact on Ukraine’s soldiers of being outgunned by Russian forces ten to one – a ratio recently reported by Ukraine’s president in an interview.

The intelligence officer Bankir also described how frontline soldiers would feel more secure knowing the rest of the country was better protected from Russian missile strikes.

“We need air defense systems. Here at the front, we need to be sure that our families in the back are protected and safe. Then we can fight,” he said.

People in Kyiv told CNN they were grateful for the vote but some were also sanguine about what it said about Ukraine’s dependence on outside help to survive.

Yulia, 32, thanked US lawmakers for their support but said delays had resulted in unnecessary deaths on the front lines as well as in the country’s major towns and cities. She also highlighted a widespread concern among Ukrainians that conflicts in other parts of the world have put Ukraine’s plight in the shadows.

“It is essential that the issue of assistance to Ukraine does not become secondary to the war in Israel, meaning we fade into the background. It is important that the aid does not stop, important that it continues,” she said.

Roman, 49, was even more circumspect, describing his frustrations with Ukraine’s reliance on Western support. He referenced a decision taken in 1994, shortly after independence, when Kyiv gave up the nuclear weapons stationed on its territory during Soviet times – now seen by many Ukrainians as a calamitous mistake.

“It seems to me that this [vote on military aid] should not have taken this long. Back in the day, Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons under pressure from the United States, and it was under US pressure that we destroyed all our aviation and handed some of it over to Russia. It is these aircraft that are now launching missile strikes against our country – missiles that we handed over to Russia,” he said, adding that US pressure back then meant Washington should feel an obligation to help Ukraine now.

“The war has taught us not to trust anyone. We became realists and fatalists a long time ago. I will believe that there is aid when it actually enters Ukraine,” he added.

Hanna, 42, was more upbeat.

“At last! We have been waiting for this for so long. The last six months have been very difficult, we lacked everything – equipment, ammunition, weapons. This is not only Ukraine’s war. It is a war of the entire world,” she said.

Danylo, 23, also struck a more positive note, saying the entire country felt relief knowing US military aid would likely start flowing again after the House vote.

“All Ukrainians have been waiting for this bill to finally pass. Ukraine has been without American aid for a long time. Without US assistance, Ukraine has little chance of success on the battlefield,” he said.

“We hope that after the adoption of this law, Ukraine will seize the initiative and save as many human lives as possible and finally be able to liberate our lands from Russian occupation.”

An expression of Ukrainian relief also came at Kyiv’s National Palace of Arts on Saturday evening. In a break between songs at a concert given by popular singers Oleksandr Ponomariov and Mykhailo Khoma, the event emcee took to the stage to announce the result of the US House vote.

The news triggered cheering among the three thousand plus audience and a sustained round of applause.

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