- New package would bring U.S. aid to almost $100 billion
- U.S. officials say one Patriot system won’t change war
- Russia threatens oil output cut in response to price cap
WASHINGTON/KYIV, Dec 23 (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers were expected to approve a $45 billion aid package for Ukraine on Friday, as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy returned from Washington with the promise of Patriot missiles to help fend off Russia’s invasion.
The military and economic assistance, part of a wider government spending bill, follows U.S. aid worth around $50 billion sent to Ukraine this year as well sanctions imposed on Russia by the West that now include a cap on Russian oil prices.
Russia responded to the cap on Friday by threatening to cut oil output by 5%-7% early next year ,through halting sales to the countries that support a measure that seeks to limit Moscow’s ability to fund the war.
Zelenskiy has long sought Patriot missiles to help counter relentless Russian air strikes, which have razed cities, towns and villages during 10 months of brutal conflict and knocked out power and water across the country over the past three months.
U.S. officials say, however, that the single Patriot battery that President Joe Biden told Zelenskiy would be supplied to Ukraine would not change the course of the war.
Washington and its allies have been unwilling to supply Kyiv with modern battle tanks and long-range missiles called ATACMS that could reach far behind frontlines and into Russia itself.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved the $44.9 billion in Ukraine aid as part of a bill funding the U.S. government through Sept. 30 that the Democratic-led House of Representatives was set to vote through on Friday.
But it was unclear whether U.S. Congressional support to Ukraine would endure after Republicans take a narrow majority in the House early next year.
Even as it fights for its survival, Ukraine is pursuing a fight against domestic corruption to help reassure international donors that their money will be spent well.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would find a way to counter the Patriots while also seeking to end the fighting. “Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war,” he said.
In response, White House spokesman John Kirby said Russia’s actions showed Putin was clearly set on escalating its invasion.
‘ANYTHING BUT WAR’
By using the word war, Putin departed from the usual Kremlin practice of referring to its invasion as a “special military operation”. A politician in St Petersburg asked prosecutors to investigate Putin over his use of the word, accusing the Kremlin chief of breaking his own law.
Nikita Yuferev, an opposition councillor in the city where Putin was born, said he knew his legal challenge would go nowhere, but filed it to expose the “mendacity” of the system.
“War, in Russian society, is a frightening word. Everyone is brought up by grandparents who lived through World War Two, everyone remembers the saying ‘Anything but war’,” he said.
The Kremlin said “significant progress” had been achieved towards its stated goal of “demilitarising” Ukraine.
Kyiv and its Western allies say Moscow is fighting an illegal war of conquest and suspect its repeated offers of negotiations on its own terms are a ploy to buy time after battlefield setbacks.
“We are coming back from Washington with …something that will really help,” Zelenskiy said on his Telegram channel, adding later: “I am in my office. We are working toward victory.”
Ukraine has driven Russian forces from its capital Kyiv and second biggest city Khakiv and Moscow is now focused on holding on to areas they occupy in southern and eastern Ukraine – around a fifth of the country.
The exiled mayor of Russian-occupied Melitopol in the south said more Russian troops had been brought into the city and were strengthening fortifications, with residents now only able to leave on foot.
A car bomb went off in the city earlier in the day, Ivan Fedorov added in his online media briefing.
Russian forces shelled the southern Kherson region 61 times in 24 hours, half of those within Kherson city, killing one person, governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said. Russia withdrew from that city last month.
In the neighbouring Zaporizhzhia region, a governor installed by Russia, Yevgeny Balitsky, said shelling of the nuclear power plant there had “almost stopped” but Russian troops would not leave.
Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of risking nuclear disaster in fighting near the plant, Europe’s largest, and the United Nations has called for a safe zone there.
Fighting in the eastern Donetsk region, one of four Russia claims to have absorbed despite not fully controlling them, remained focused around Bakhmut and nearby Avdiivka, where the Kremlin’s forces shelled around a dozen towns, Ukraine’s General Staff said on Facebook on Thursday.
Reuters was not able to confirm the battlefield reports.
Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Cynthia Osterman, Himani Sarkar and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Grant McCool, Michael Perry and John Stonestreet
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