White House warns Kyiv it cannot say when Ukraine aid will come

AFP || Shining BD

Published: 3/21/2024 5:33:09 AM

A top US official said Wednesday that Washington could not predict when a vital $60-billion military aid package for Ukraine would be passed in Congress, as Volodymyr Zelensky called for Western air defences after a Russian missile attack killed at least five.

A fresh round of aerial bombardments by both sides left civilians dead on Wednesday as strikes escalate in the third year of the war.

Kyiv's army is facing manpower and ammunition shortages amid political wrangling in the US Congress that has raised uncertainty over the future of Western support.

Addressing the stalled aid bill while on a visit to Kyiv on Wednesday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said: "It has already taken too long. And I know that, you know that."

"I'm not going to make predictions about exactly when this will get done, but we are working to get it done as soon as possible... but I cannot make a specific prediction today," he told reporters at a press conference in the Ukrainian capital.

Republicans in the US House of Representatives have been blocking a sweeping aid package since last year, with the funding caught up in domestic arguments over President Joe Biden's immigration policies.

Washington is Ukraine's most important military backer and has provided tens of billions of dollars in support since Moscow invaded in February 2022.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Tuesday that he was shocked the package of aid has not yet been unlocked.

And on Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said the West had vital air defence systems that could save Ukrainian lives if delivered to his country.

- 'Get that money' -

Despite the aid delay, Sullivan said he was "confident" the impasse would be overcome.

"We will get that money out the door," he said.

Both Moscow and Kyiv said civilians had been killed in fresh aerial barrages Wednesday.

"Five people were killed by a Russia missile in Kharkiv today," Zelensky said in his evening video address.

Another nine were injured and five more were unaccounted for as search and rescue operations continued into the night, local officials said. They warned the death toll could rise.

Ukrainian police said a Russian missile slammed into an eight-storey building and a factory in the city, which lies 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the Russian border, at around 1:00 pm local time (1100 GMT).

Pictures showed a blaze raging inside the building and at least five fire engines on site. Ukraine's emergency services published photos as darkness fell, showing windows of the factory blown out and firefighters walking through the charred interior.

Zelensky reiterated his call for air defence systems after the attack.
"Our partners have these defence systems. And our partners need to understand that air defences must (be used to) protect lives," he added.

- 'Massive strikes' -

Directly across the border from Kharkiv, the governor of Russia's Belgorod region said multiple attacks had killed three people.

"Since early morning, the Graivoron district has come under massive strikes, including with the use of multiple rocket launcher systems," Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Wednesday in a post on Telegram.

Two people were killed there, and another man was killed in the regional capital, also called Belgorod, when shrapnel from a shelling attack hit his car, Gladkov said.

Kyiv has escalated drone, rocket and artillery fire on the region over the last two weeks, in a wave of attacks launched ahead of Russia's presidential elections. Pro-Ukrainian paramilitaries have also attempted armed raids across the border.

Some schools in Belgorod would shift to remote learning, Gladkov said, a day after he ordered 9,000 children to be evacuated from areas closest to the Ukrainian border.

- 'Victory' -

In Moscow, Russian President Putin vowed he would restore order to the border regions, as the fallout from his invasion continues to spill into Russian territory.

"The first thing is of course to ensure security. There are different ways, they are not easy, but we will do them," he said, without elaborating.

Speaking inside the Kremlin's gilded Andreyev Hall, Putin also said his win in a weekend presidential vote in which he faced no competition would be followed by success on the battlefield.

"Victory in the elections is just a prologue to those victories that Russia so badly needs and that will definitely come," he said.

Russian forces have secured their first territorial gains in almost a year and this week claimed to have made further advances in the eastern Donetsk region.

Ukraine also reported civilian fatalities in areas close to the fighting on Wednesday.

In the south of the country, Russian shelling killed two people outside the city of Kherson and in the east, another two were killed near Vugledar in the Donetsk region.

- International aid -

Kyiv also signed security deals with Italy, Britain, France, Germany and Denmark in recent weeks.

Australia, which signed a new defence agreement with the United Kingdom on Thursday, has also agreed to join a coalition with the UK and Latvia that aims to supply drones for the Ukrainian war effort.

Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said his country also received $1.8 billion in aid from Canada, part of $2.2 billion in financial and military support pledged by Ottawa.

"These are important funds that will help our government finance the deficit, including social programmes to help Ukrainians," Shmyhal said on Telegram late Wednesday.

Shining BD