Six months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, U.S. President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he is sending $2.98 billion US in new military aid to Ukraine that will enable forces there to fight for years to come.
In a statement, Biden said the aid will allow Ukraine to acquire air defence systems, artillery systems and munitions, drones and other equipment “to ensure it can continue to defend itself over the long term.”
It’s the largest aid package yet from the U.S., which so far has sent $10.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. The announcement comes as Ukraine is celebrating its 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.
“I know this independence day is bittersweet for many Ukrainians as thousands have been killed or wounded, millions have been displaced from their homes, and so many others have fallen victim to Russian atrocities and attacks,” Biden said. “But six months of relentless attacks have only strengthened Ukrainians’ pride in themselves, in their country and in their thirty-one years of independence.”
Unlike most previous packages, the new American funding is largely aimed at helping Ukraine secure its medium- to long-term defence posture, according to officials familiar who briefed The Associated Press before its public release.
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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country is providing more than 500 million euros ($498 million US) in aid, including powerful anti-aircraft systems. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday $3.85 million Cdn for two Ukraine projects, with the bulk going to funding for ongoing development of Ukraine’s national police force and other emergency services.
Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, speaking to CBC News in Toronto, said the Liberal government is steadfast in its support.
“We know that Putin’s war of choice is one of imperialism,” she said. “So it is not a rational decision and we need to make sure that, meanwhile, we strengthen the position of Ukrainians.
“We need to continue to support them by really isolating diplomatically, economically and politically, Russia. We need to make sure that we send heavy artillery. We need to be there for Ukrainian people through humanitarian aid, and also need to shed light on the atrocities that Russia is committing in Ukraine.”
Security Council session on tap
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24. Moscow’s military encountered unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance, and the six months of fighting has upended life in Ukraine and sent shock waves through the world economy. Both countries have seen thousands of troops killed and injured.
World leaders marked Ukraine’s independence day.
The U.K. Ministry of Defence tweeted a video of the Scots Guards Band, which usually provides musical accompaniment for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, performing Ukraine’s winning Eurovision Song Contest entry, Stefania.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is soon to leave office, urged allies to keep giving Ukraine all the military, humanitarian, economic and diplomatic support it needs.
“We will never recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea or any other Ukrainian territory,” Johnson said in a Tuesday video address.
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Pope Francis at mass on Wednesday decried the “insanity” of war and lamented that innocents on both sides were paying the price. The pope warned about the risk of nuclear disaster in Ukraine, a reference to the shelling of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Concerns about the nuclear plant will again be a topic of conversation Wednesday at the United Nations Security Council, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expected to brief reporters.
Muted observation in Ukraine
In Ukraine, residents of Kyiv woke up to air raid sirens.
Authorities in the capital banned large-scale gatherings until Thursday, fearing the national holiday might bring particularly heavy Russian missile attacks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged the public to be vigilant in observing safety rules and curfew.
Last year, crowds turned out in Kyiv to watch a military parade marking Ukraine’s 30-year independence anniversary. But this year, just a small number of residents gathered at Kyiv’s central square, where destroyed Russian tanks and mobile artillery were put on display over the weekend.
“I can’t sleep at night because of what I see and hear about what is being done in Ukraine,” a retiree who identified herself only by her first name, Tetyana, said, her voice shaking with emotion.
“This is not a war. It is the destruction of the Ukrainian people.”
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, speaking Wednesday at an international conference in China, claimed the slow pace of Moscow’s military action was due to what he said was an effort to spare civilians.
Shoigu said that “strikes with precision weapons are carried out against the Ukrainian armed forces’ military infrastructure…. Everything is done to avoid civilian casualties. Undoubtedly, it slows down the pace of the offensive, but we do it deliberately.”
On the forefront of the Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, the conflict ground on. Russian forces struck several towns and villages in Donetsk province over 24 hours, killing one person and injuring two others, according to the regional administration.
In the Dnipropetrovsk region on the southern front, Russian forces again shelled the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets, damaging several buildings and injuring two people, according to Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko. Russian troops also shelled the city of Zaporizhzhia, damaging several buildings and infrastructure but inflicting no casualties.