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BIG relief to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan as US Senate overwhelmingly passes USD 95 billion aid

A sweeping foreign aid package easily passed the US Congress after months of delay, clearing the way for billions of dollars in fresh Ukraine funding amid advances from Russia's invasion force and Kyiv's shortages of military supplies.

Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 Washington Updated on: April 24, 2024 10:36 IST
US President Joe Biden with his Ukranian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Image Source : AP/FILE US President Joe Biden with his Ukranian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy

In a major relief to the war-engaged nations, the Senate has passed USD 95 billion in war aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden after months of delays and contentious debate over how involved the United States should be in foreign wars. The bill passed the Senate on an overwhelming 79-18 vote late on Tuesday after the House had approved the package on Saturday. Biden, who worked with congressional leaders to win support, said in a statement immediately after passage that he would sign it on Wednesday and start the process of sending weapons to Ukraine, which has been struggling to hold its front lines against Russia.

"Tonight, a bipartisan majority in the Senate joined the House to answer history's call at this critical inflexion point," Biden said. The legislation would also send USD 26 billion in wartime assistance to Israel and humanitarian relief to citizens of Gaza, and USD 8 billion to counter Chinese threats in Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific. US officials said about USD 1 billion of the aid could be on its way shortly, with the bulk following in the coming weeks.

Joe Biden's response after passage of the bill

In an interview with The Associated Press shortly before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said that if Congress had not passed the aid, "America would have paid a price economically, politically, militarily." "Very few things we have done have risen to this level of historic importance," he said. On the Senate floor, Schumer said the Senate was sending a message to US allies: "We will stand with you."

Dire consequences

Schumer and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made passage of the legislation a top priority, agreeing to tie Ukraine and Israel aid to help ensure passage and arguing there could be dire consequences for the United States and many of its global allies if Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression is left unchecked. They worked with House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, to overcome seemingly intractable Republican opposition to the Ukraine aid, in particular -- eventually winning large majorities in both chambers.

McConnell said in a separate interview before the vote that it "is one of the biggest days in the time that I have been here". "At least on this episode, I think we turned the tables on the isolationists," McConnell said. In the end, 31 Republicans voted for the aid package -- nine more than when the Senate passed a similar version in February, and a majority of the Senate GOP conference. The House approved the package in a series of four votes on Saturday, with the Ukraine portion passing 311-112.

Why is the latest aid package crucial for Ukraine?

The USD 61 billion for Ukraine comes as the war-torn country desperately needs new firepower and as Russian President Vladimir Putin has stepped up his attacks. Ukrainian soldiers have struggled as Russia has seized the momentum on the battlefield and gained significant territory.

Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday the US will send badly needed air defence weaponry as soon as the legislation is passed. "The President has assured me that the package will be approved quickly and that it will be powerful, strengthening our air defence as well as long-range and artillery capabilities," Zelenskyy said in a post on X on Monday.

In an effort to gain more votes, Republicans in the House majority also added a bill to the foreign aid package that could ban the social media app TikTok in the US if its Chinese owners do not sell their stake within a year. That legislation had wide bipartisan support in both chambers.

US to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine

The TikTok bill was one of the several tweaks Johnson brought to the package the Senate passed in February as he tried to move the bill through the House despite significant opposition within his conference. Other additions include a stipulation that USD 9 billion of the economic assistance to Ukraine is in the form of "forgivable loans"; provisions that allow the US to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to rebuild Ukraine; and bills to impose sanctions on Iran, Russia, China and criminal organisations that traffic fentanyl.

Those changes appear to have brought some of the nine additional Senate Republicans on board, bringing support to more than half of McConnell's conference. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a longtime hawk who voted against the foreign aid package in February because it was not paired with legislation to stem migration at the border, was one of the Republicans who switched their votes. "If we do not help Ukraine now, this war will spread, and Americans who are not involved will be involved," Graham said.

The package has had broad congressional support since Biden first requested the money last summer. But congressional leaders had to navigate strong opposition from a growing number of conservatives who question US involvement in foreign wars and argue that Congress should be focused instead on the surge of migration at the US-Mexico border.

(With inputs from agency)

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