UNITED STATES NEWS

Biden says the US is rushing weaponry to Ukraine as he signs a $95 billion war aid measure into law

Apr 24, 2024, 2:03 AM | Updated: 1:30 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he was immediately rushing badly needed weaponry to Ukraine as he signed into law a $95 billion war aid measure that also included assistance for Israel, Taiwan and other global hot spots.

The announcement marked an end to the long, painful battle with Republicans in Congress over urgently needed assistance for Ukraine, with Biden promising that U.S. weapons shipment would begin making the way into Ukraine “in the next few hours.”

“We rose to the moment, we came together, and we got it done,” Biden said a White House event to announce the bill signing. “Now we need to move fast, and we are.”

But significant damage has been done to the Biden administration’s effort to help Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion during the funding impasse that dates back to August, when the Democratic president made his first emergency spending request for Ukraine. Even with a burst of new weapons and ammunition, it’s unlikely Ukraine will immediately recover after months of setbacks.

Biden immediately approved sending Ukraine $1 billion in military assistance, the first installment from about $61 billion allocated for Ukraine. The package includes air defense capabilities, artillery rounds, armored vehicles and other weapons to shore up Ukrainian forces who have seen morale sink as Russian President Vladimir Putin has racked up win after win.

Meanwhile, Ukraine for the first time has begun using long-range ballistic missiles provided secretly by the United States, bombing a Russian military airfield in Crimea last week and Russian forces in another occupied area overnight, American officials confirmed Wednesday. The U.S. is providing more of the Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, in the new military package, according to one official who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Still, longer term, it remains uncertain if Ukraine, after months of losses and massive damage to its infrastructure, can make enough progress to sustain American political support before burning through the latest influx of money.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan cautioned that even as new U.S. aid flows into Ukraine, it’s possible that Russia will continue to make tactical gains in the weeks ahead.

“The fact is that it’s going to take some time for us to dig out of the hole that was created by six months of delay,” he said.

Tucked into the measure is a provision that gives TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance, nine months to sell it or face a nationwide prohibition in the United States. The administration and a bipartisan group of lawmakers have called the social media site a growing national security concern, which ByteDance denies.

The bill includes about $26 billion in aid for Israel and about $1 billion in humanitarian relief for Palestinians in Gaza as the Israel-Hamas war continues. Biden said Israel must ensure the humanitarian aid for Palestinians in bill reaches the Hamas-controlled territory “without delay.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., delayed the aid package for months as members of his party’s far right wing, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, threatened to move to oust him if he allowed a vote to send more assistance to Ukraine. Those threats persist.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has complained that European allies have not done enough for Ukraine. While the former president stopped short of endorsing the funding package, his tone has shifted in recent days, acknowledging that Ukraine’s survival is important to the United States.

Many European leaders have long been nervous that a second Trump term would mean decreased U.S. support for Ukraine and NATO. The European anxiety was heightened in February when Trump in a campaign speech warned NATO allies that he “would encourage” Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to countries that don’t meet defense spending goals if he returns to the White House.

It was a key moment in the debate over Ukraine spending. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg quickly called out Trump for putting “American and European soldiers at increased risk.” But in reality, the White House maneuvering to win additional funding for Ukraine started months earlier.

Biden, the day after returning from a trip to Tel Aviv following Hamas militants’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, used a prime-time address to make his pitch for the funding.

At the time, the House was in chaos because the Republican majority had been unable to select a speaker to replace Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who had been ousted weeks earlier at the urging of restive legislators on the right.

Far-right Republicans have adamantly opposed sending more money for Ukraine, with the war appearing to have no end in sight. Biden in August requested more than $20 billion to keep aid flowing into Ukraine, but the money was stripped out of a must-pass spending bill.

By late October, Republicans finally settled on Johnson, a low-profile Louisiana Republican whose thinking on Ukraine was opaque, to serve as the next speaker. Biden during his congratulatory call with Johnson urged him to quickly pass Ukraine aid and began a monthslong, largely behind-the-scenes effort to bring the matter to a vote.

In private conversations with Johnson, Biden and White House officials leaned into the stakes for Europe if Ukraine were to fall to Russia. On explicit orders from Biden, White House officials also avoided directly attacking Johnson over the stalled aid.

Biden praised Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., saying in the end they “stepped up and did the right thing.”

“History will remember this moment,” he said.

At frustrating moments during the negotiations, Biden urged his aides to “just keep talking, keep working,” according to a senior administration official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal discussions.

So they did. In a daily meeting convened by White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, the president’s top aides would brainstorm possible ways to better make the case about Ukraine’s dire situation in the absence of aid.

The White House also sought to accommodate Johnson and his various asks. For instance, administration officials at the speaker’s request briefed Reps. Chip Roy, R-Texas, and Ralph Norman, R-S.C., two conservatives who were persistent antagonists of Johnson.

In public, the administration deployed a strategy of downgrading intelligence that demonstrated Russia’s efforts to tighten its ties with U.S. adversaries China, North Korea and Iran to fortify Moscow’s defense industrial complex and get around U.S. and European sanctions.

The $61 billion can help triage Ukrainian forces, but Kyiv will need much more for a fight that could last years, military experts say.

Realistic goals for the months ahead for Ukraine — and its allies — include avoiding the loss of major cities, slowing Russia’s momentum and getting to Kyiv additional weaponry that could help them go on the offensive in 2025, said Bradley Bowman, a defense strategy and policy analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.

“I think Ukrainian success is not guaranteed,” Bowman said, “but Russian success is if we stop supporting Ukraine.”

Biden lamented that the package did not include money to bolster U.S. border security. The White House had proposed including in the package provisions it said would have helped stem the tide of migrants and asylum seekers coming to the U.S. Republicans, however, rejected the proposal at the urging of Trump, who did not want to give Biden the win on an issue that’s been an albatross for the Democratic administration.

___

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Haleluya Hadero, Mary Clare Jalonick and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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Biden says the US is rushing weaponry to Ukraine as he signs a $95 billion war aid measure into law