Berliner Tageblatt - Biden pledges swift weapons delivery to Ukraine

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Biden pledges swift weapons delivery to Ukraine
Biden pledges swift weapons delivery to Ukraine / Photo: © AFP

Biden pledges swift weapons delivery to Ukraine

US President Joe Biden vowed to send fresh weapons to Ukraine within days as he prepared to sign on Wednesday an aid package including $61 billion meant to help Kyiv's forces push back against Russia.

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Congress approved on Tuesday the long-delayed legislation, which also contained a measure to ban TikTok in the United States if the popular social media app does not cut ties with its Chinese parent company.

Days after the Republican-led House of Representatives cleared the aid -- part of a larger $95 billion package of assistance to allies including Israel and Taiwan -- the Democratic-controlled Senate followed suit, passing it with bipartisan support on a 79-18 vote.

"I will sign this bill into law and address the American people as soon as it reaches my desk tomorrow so we can begin sending weapons and equipment to Ukraine this week," Biden said in a statement shortly after the vote.

Passage of the bill, which also provides much-needed humanitarian assistance to Gaza, Sudan and Haiti, comes after months of acrimonious debate among lawmakers over how or even whether to help Ukraine defend itself.

A similar aid package passed the Senate in February, but had been stalled in the House while Republican Speaker Mike Johnson -- heeding calls from ex-president Donald Trump and his hardline allies -- demanded concessions from Biden on immigration policies, before a sudden reversal.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who visited Washington in December to plead for fresh aid, quickly thanked US lawmakers for passing the bill, saying on social media that he looked "forward to the bill being signed soon and the next military aid package matching the resoluteness that I always see in our negotiations."

"Ukraine's long-range capabilities, artillery, and air defense are critical tools for restoring just peace sooner."

Biden said the bill's approval showed America stood "resolutely for democracy and freedom, and against tyranny and oppression," while the Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said it sent a message that the United States "will not turn our back on you."

The Ukraine measure also allows Biden to confiscate and sell Russian assets and provide the money to Kyiv to finance reconstruction, a move that has been embraced by other G7 nations.

The United States has been the chief military backer of Ukraine in its war against Russia, but Congress had not approved large-scale funding for its ally for nearly a year and a half.

The financing of the war has become a point of contention ahead of a presidential election in November that is expected to pit Biden against Trump once again.

- 'Strong message to our enemies' -

The bill also takes aim at TikTok. It would force the platform to divest from its Chinese parent company ByteDance or face a nationwide ban in the United States, where it has around 170 million users.

Western officials have voiced alarm over the popularity of TikTok with young people, alleging it is subservient to Beijing and a conduit to spread propaganda and gather personal data -- claims denied by the company.

TikTok and supporters have decried the prospective ban, warning it would trample free speech rights.

In addition to money for Ukraine, the new assistance package earmarks $13 billion for Israel, which is locked in a war with Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz thanked the US Senate for approving the military aid, saying on the social media site X that it was "a clear testament to the strength of our alliance and sends a strong message to all our enemies."

The US approval comes as the war in Gaza enters its 201st day.

It was triggered by an October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Since then, Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas and engaged in a blistering assault on the militant group, which rules the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian territory's health ministry says 34,183 people have been killed in Israel's military campaign in Gaza, most of them women and children.

The US aid package also allocates more than $9 billion for humanitarian assistance in Gaza and elsewhere, and $8 billion in military support for Taiwan as it faces down China.

- Ukraine aid 'within days' -

A Pentagon spokesperson told reporters Tuesday it could deliver fresh aid to Ukraine "within days."

Ukraine's military is facing a severe shortage of weapons and recruits as Moscow exerts constant pressure from the east.

Frontline circumstances are expected to worsen in the coming weeks, with Ukrainian intelligence head Kyrylo Budanov predicting a "rather difficult situation" beginning in mid-May.

The debate over Ukraine assistance has highlighted wide divisions between Democrats and Republicans in Congress -- but it has also revealed deep fissures within the conservative movement ahead of the November elections.

While some hardline Republicans have been wary of sending funds overseas, Biden and the Democrats frame Ukraine aid as an investment in US security against Russian aggression.

O.Lorenz--BTB