Mitch McConnell and GOP leaders visit Ukraine ahead of new bids for NATO

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MUKACHEVO, Ukraine – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kai) led a delegation of Republican senators from the United States to Ukraine on Saturday, where they met with President Volodymyr Zelensky as Russia’s aggression changes tectonic plates in European politics.

Zelensky greeted four American lawmakers on the streets of Kiev, calling their visit “a strong signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine from the US Congress and the American people,” his office said in a statement. McConnell was accompanied by Sens Susan Collins (Maine), John Barasso (YO) and John Cornin (Tex.).

Zelensky referred to the “special role of the United States” in imposing sanctions on Russia and said he was waiting for additional sanctions on Russian banking. He called on Russia to identify itself as a state sponsor of terrorism.

McConnell’s delegation’s unannounced visit to Kyiv was the latest in a string of high-ranking Western officials. It includes First Lady Jill Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), And leaders from Canada and various European countries.

Officials representing Republican senators did not respond to requests for comment, but the visit is another indication that the Senate may soon approve about 40 40 billion in additional military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, exceeding President Biden’s $ 33 billion request. This money would extend a new lifeline for Kiev as Moscow moves forward with its invasion of the south and east of the country.

The passage of the measure, which was approved by the House, would bring in more than $ 53 billion in total US congressional aid to Ukraine since the invasion began in February. So far this year, US military aid to Ukraine has already surpassed what other countries, including Israel, received in FY 2020.

The list of anti-Ukrainian Republican lawmakers is growing rapidly

The Senate could follow the House to approve the package, but that effort was delayed until next week after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kai) objected to a quick vote on aid to Ukraine on Thursday, easing the bipartisan push. To maintain unwavering support to Kiev.

Paul has been criticized for the move but is adamant in his decision, saying the United States cannot send aid to Ukraine. Although he was able to postpone the vote on the package, he would not be able to stop it alone if the full Senate convenes. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby warned that any delay in passing the bill after Thursday could jeopardize the United States’ ability to provide assistance to the war-torn country.

Rand Paul, the only Senate holdout, postponed a vote on Ukraine aid next week

Ukrainian officials are in talks with Russia to evacuate 60 “seriously injured” people and doctors from the besieged Azovstal factory in Mariupol.

Less than an hour from the Russian border, the Soviet-era steel plant became the epicenter of intense Russian shelling and fighting, as Ukrainian soldiers and civilians hid in a cave network of bunkers and tunnels during the Cold War week after week. Hungry on all sides and slowly.

About 600 injured people are still in the Azovastal complex without water, food or medicine, a Donetsk regional police official told a Mariupol news site. Most are sleeping on the floor, and the situation is unhealthy, the officer said.

Turkey has offered to withdraw but Russia has not agreed to any plan. Zelensky described the talks as “very difficult” at the end of Friday, adding: “We do not stop trying to save all our people from Mariupol and Azovstal.”

Elsewhere in the shattered port city, hundreds of vehicles filled up and drove safely northward, a local official said Saturday.

“A huge convoy of vehicles (500 to 1,000 vehicles) with the residents of Mariupol, who had been waiting for more than three days, were finally allowed to go to Zaporizhia,” wrote Petro Andreushchenko, an adviser. Mayor of Mariupol, in a telegram.

The evacuation of civilians is in full swing, with Ukrainian officials frequently accusing Russian forces of interfering in humanitarian corridors that are used to evacuate civilians. According to the Azov Regiment, which is guarding the complex, a steelworks plant serving as the last holdout of Ukrainians in the city is facing bombing.

Despite fighting in Mariupol, Ukrainian forces have succeeded elsewhere in the west, pushing Russian troops northward into the Kharkiv region and recapturing towns and villages in the area, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters Friday.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, has assessed that Ukraine “seems to have won the war in Kharkiv.” It added that the Kremlin had “probably decided to withdraw altogether” from its position around the city amid enthusiastic Ukrainian counter-attacks and limited Russian reinforcements.

How Ukraine has become the top recipient of US military aid

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is in Berlin this weekend to meet with European allies, with Finland and Sweden indicating they want to join the NATO alliance. Finnish President Sauli Ninisto spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday to inform him of his country’s decision to join NATO in the coming days. The alliance has indicated it will accept membership from Finland and Sweden.

In the run-up to Russia’s aggression in February, Moscow repeatedly declared that any NATO expansion would threaten Russia’s own security and used this so-called threat as an argument for advancing on Ukraine.

Putin warned the Finnish president that it would be a mistake to abandon Finland’s “long-standing policy of military neutrality, as there is no threat to Finland’s security,” the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

A country of only 5.5 million people, Finland was invaded in 1939 by its much larger neighbor, the Soviet Union. Since then, Finnish policy has sought to move cautiously around Soviet and Russian sensitivities, maintaining a strict policy of neutrality during the Cold War. . The Ukraine invasion seems to have ended the 80-year-old strategy, as Finland, which shares an 800-mile border with Russia, seeks to align itself more closely with Western Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday claimed that the West had declared a “complete hybrid war” against Russia during the invasion of Ukraine.

Lavrov said the support given to Ukraine by Western powers and the historic, wide-ranging sanctions against Russia would have a lasting effect on the world.

“The United West has declared a complete hybrid war against us, and it is difficult to predict how long this will last, but it is clear that the results will be felt by all without exception,” he said. “We have tried our best to avoid direct confrontation, but the challenge has been thrown at us, so we have accepted it. We’ve always been under sanctions, so we’re used to them. “

Barrett, Bella and Etienne report from Washington and Dupleix from London. Victoria Bisset and Ellen Francis in London; Amy Cheng and Andrew Jiang in Seoul; And Toby Razi and Meryl Cornfield in Washington contributed to this report.

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