US President Joe Biden speaks after signing into law the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 9, 2022
Washington (AFP) - US lawmakers were set to vote Tuesday on a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine as Washington warned Russia was likely girding for a long conflict with its neighbor.
The defense, humanitarian and economic funding should pass comfortably, with the two parties having reached an agreement on the details, and it will likely move quickly through Congress.
“Time is of the essence – and we cannot afford to wait,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to her Democratic colleagues.
“With this aid package, America sends a resounding message to the world of our unwavering determination to stand with the courageous people of Ukraine until victory is won.
Congressional leaders struck a deal Monday to release $6.8 billion more than the $33 billion previously requested by the White House to help the Eastern European nation ward off Moscow’s invasion.
The financial boost would include an extra $3.4 billion for both military and humanitarian assistance on top of the funding requested by the administration.
If the package passes as planned, US spending to bolster Ukraine’s defenses against Russia’s invasion and address the ensuing humanitarian crisis will soar to around $54 billion.
The action comes as a top US official warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing for a long war that may not end with Russian victory in the east.
“We assess President Putin is preparing for prolonged conflict in Ukraine during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbas,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said at a hearing on Capitol Hill.
She added that Putin was counting on US and EU resolve to weaken as the conflict continues to cause food shortages and inflation, including spiraling energy prices.
- Covid aid complications -
The House of Representatives was due to vote on the legislation later Tuesday, likely followed by the Senate at the end of the week or next week.
US senators Lindsey Graham (right) and Senator Richard Blumenthal hold a news conference on declaring Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism on May 10, 2022
The Democratic leadership had hoped to tie the Ukraine money to $10 billion in new funding for Covid-19 tests, therapeutics and vaccines, with the United States experiencing a new spike in cases as it nears one million deaths.
But they decided against the move as they were unwilling to get drawn into another fight over border control.
Republicans stopped the Covid aid package last month, demanding an amendment vote to keep in place Title 42, the pandemic-related provision used to deny asylum requests and allow the quick expulsion of migrants.
With the policy due to end on May 23, Democrats are reluctant to allow a vote, as several of their moderate lawmakers, and those in tough re-election fights, would likely vote with Republicans.
President Joe Biden said in a statement Monday he was prepared to accept the decoupling of Ukraine and Covid aid, with “approximately 10 days” to go until the current funding runs out,
Two senators – Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Richard Blumenthal – unveiled a resolution Tuesday calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.
“If there is anybody who embodies terrorism, totalitarianism and torture, it is Vladimir Putin,” Blumenthal said at a news conference.
The White House has so far resisted calls to add Russia to the list, which currently features Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria, as Russia is already facing many of the consequences a terror sponsor designation would bring.
Graham said however the label would make clear how strongly the United States supports Ukraine in its effort to repel the Russian invasion.