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Zelensky urges U.S. to send weapons quickly ahead of Russian offensive

Following passage in the House of a major military aid package for Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday that his country will only be able to repel an anticipated Russian offensive if the U.S. weapons arrive quickly.

Zelensky said his forces are preparing for a significant battle in the east of the country, where Russia aims to capture the city of Chasiv Yar by May 9, the holiday when Russia marks the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi forces in World War II.

Zelensky told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that his soldiers are outgunned and “lack equipment they need to fight Russian reconnaissance drones, which essentially guide their artillery.” He said Ukrainian forces lack long-range weapons of their own, as well as adequate air defenses, and indicated that while U.S. lawmakers debated the aid package, Ukraine lost time and momentum.

“We’ve had the process stalled for half a year and we had losses in several directions, in the east. It was very difficult and we did lose the initiative there,” Zelensky said. “Now we have all the chance to stabilize the situation and to take the initiative, and that’s why we need to actually have the weapon systems.”

The $60 billion aid package had stalled because of bitter infighting among Republicans over whether to side with Ukraine against Russia, which invaded the country more than two years ago. Officials in Washington and Kyiv have warned that Ukraine’s front-line units were rationing a rapidly evaporating stockpile of armaments and that soon Moscow would have a 10-to-1 advantage in artillery rounds.

Notably, Zelensky did not give a timeline for when his forces might regain an advantage on the battlefield once they receive the weapons, nor did he say that the additional support would be decisive in the war.

“I think this support will really strengthen the armed forces of Ukraine and we will have a chance for victory,” Zelensky said.

Thanking House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), whose support for the package has threatened his leadership position, as well as President Biden, Zelensky urged the Senate to act so weapons can be sent to Ukraine “as fast as possible so that we get some tangible assistance for the soldiers on the front line as soon as possible, not in another six months, so that they would be able to move ahead.” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Saturday that the first votes on the $95 billion aid package would take place Tuesday afternoon.

The Pentagon has a massive infusion of military aid for Ukraine “ready to go” after the aid package becomes law, U.S. officials said late last week. One official, who like some others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Biden administration’s planning, said it would take less than a week for some of the weapons to reach the battlefield, depending on where they are stored.

Zelensky avoided any direct confrontation with Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, who has said the United States should stop assisting Ukraine and promised that he would bring the war to a close quickly if elected to a second term.

The Washington Post has reported that Trump has said privately that he would pressure Ukraine to cede territory to Russia, a reversal of the Biden administration’s policy to arm the country so it can fight back against Russia.

Zelensky declined to comment on the report but suggested that Trump and his advisers should understand that Russian President Vladimir Putin is not a credible negotiator. “They know that you can never trust Putin. It’s impossible,” Zelensky said.

In Washington, Democratic and Republican lawmakers cheered the House’s action and cast U.S. assistance as a bulwark against authoritarian regimes around the world.

“If you give Putin Ukraine, he will not stop,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“And if you give him Ukraine, there goes Taiwan, because China’s watching to see what we do,” Graham said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told the news program that the aid sends a message to Putin as well as Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I think America is back on offense,” Blumenthal said. “And this sign that we can come together in a bipartisan way for our national security and send a message to Vladimir Putin, to Xi, to the dictators of the world: Too soon to be popping your champagne corks. America is going to defend democracy.”

Underscoring the tensions within his party, Graham criticized Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) for opposing Ukraine aid and said Vance needs to visit the country to better understand what’s at stake for the United States and its NATO allies.

“If you want American military members to stay out of the fight with Russia, help Ukraine,” Graham said.

Those comments echoed warnings from Zelensky and other leaders that if Russia succeeds in Ukraine, Putin will eventually invade another European nation.

“If the Russians win this war in Ukraine, then there is a very high probability that they will make another [war] since this is the insatiable Russian imperialism,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” sought to shift blame to Biden for how the war in Ukraine has unfolded, saying, “The botched withdrawal from Afghanistan [in 2021] emboldened Putin to undertake the invasion of Ukraine.”

Sullivan acknowledged he could not guarantee that Trump — a frequent critic of U.S. aid to other countries — would support Ukraine if he wins in November. “Nobody can guarantee anything,” Sullivan said.

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said the House should have acted long ago.

“Ukrainians’ morale has been great, but it’s been undermined over the last couple of months when they have been literally giving out rationed bullets,” Warner said on the CBS program. He called for tightening sanctions on Russia and said China is “the worst offender with direct military support” to Russia.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) downplayed the delays in passing aid to Ukraine and emphasized that the package passed with bipartisan support. “I’m sorry, democracy is kind of a messy business, and the reality is, it’s done,” he said on “Face the Nation.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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