Five things to know about the war between Russia and Ukraine this week

Almost three months after the Russian invasion began, Ukrainian forces are launching counter-attacks to reclaim territory, while the US provides billions in additional aid to the war-torn country.

As Ukraine continues to face a brutal Russian offensive in the eastern Donbas region, President Biden requested Congressional approval late last month $33 billion in security, economic and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

The House on Tuesday approved a package worth billions of dollars more than the president had requested. Senate leaders also tried in the Senate for quick approval of the bill, but it was held up in the Senate by Republican Senator Rand Paul (Ky.)

Amid the delay, a delegation of Republican senators led by Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was headed to Ukraine on Saturday to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In recent days, Ukraine has also reclaimed territory from Russian forces in the northeast and Finland has announced its intention to apply for NATO membership amid Russian opposition.

Here are five things you need to know about the war this week:

House approves $40 billion in aid for Ukraine

The House voted 368 to 57 on Tuesday to approve a $39.8 billion Ukrainian aid package.

All 57 votes against the bill were Republicans, and those who opposed the measure cited US national debt. Two Democrats and three Republicans did not vote.

The price tag for the bill passed by the House of Representatives was well above the $33 billion in aid to Ukraine that President Biden had requested late last month.

“The House today took a crucial step by sending a clear, two-pronged message to Ukraine, Russia and the world that the United States stands with the Ukrainian people as they defend their democracy against Russian aggression,” White House press secretary Jen House. Psaki wrote in a statement after the House passed the bill.

The package will “send more weapons, such as artillery, armored vehicles and ammunition, to Ukraine” and help the US “replenish our stockpile and support US troops on NATO territory,” she said.

Rand Paul blocked rapid passage of aid to Ukraine in Senate

After the approved bill was sent to the Senate, it was held up by an objection from Paul.

Paul blocked a deal proposed by Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (DN.Y.) and McConnell, because he wanted to add language to the bill to expand the role of inspector general for Afghanistan to aid oversight to Ukraine.

Paul also warned about the pace of spending, saying, “We can’t save Ukraine by damning the US economy.”

“Americans feel the pain” [from inflation] and Congress seems only intent on adding to that pain by shoveling more money out the door ASAP,” he added.

The bill was said to have gone to ground on Thursday, but may now be delayed for more than a week because of Paul.

McConnell, other Republican senators visit Ukraine

McConnell, along with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), traveled to Ukraine and met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday.

“The visit by the US Senate delegation led by Republican minority leader to the First House of Congress, Mitchell McConnell, is a strong signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine by the US Congress and the American people,” Zelensky said after the visit. . †

The Republican visit comes after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (DN.Y.) and First Lady Jill Biden also visited the war-torn countries earlier this month.

“It was inspiring to visit the historic capital of a beautiful country forced to fight for its own survival,” McConnell said. “We have seen first hand the courage, unity and determination of the Ukrainian people. The Ukrainians bravely fight a deranged invader and have already succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of skeptics. They are willing and determined to keep fighting for victory. Ukraine is not asking anyone else to join their fight. They only ask for the tools they need for self-defense.”

The senators joined a growing list of officials, lawmakers and world leaders who have gone to Ukraine during the ongoing conflict, as Zelensky has encouraged such visits.

Zelensky urged Biden to travel to Ukraine as well. US officials have said the president currently has no plans to do so.

Ukraine recaptures villages, towns around Kharkiv

On Thursday, the British Ministry of Defense announced that Ukraine has recaptured villages and towns north of the city of Kharkov previously occupied by Russian forces.

“Russia’s priority for operations in the Donbas has made elements deployed in Kharkiv Oblast vulnerable to the mobile and highly motivated Ukrainian counter-attack force,” the ministry said.

It added that after suffering heavy losses, Russia withdrew units from the area with the aim of reorganizing and replenishing its forces.

“The withdrawal of Russian troops from Kharkiv Oblast is a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to take key Ukrainian cities where they expected little resistance from the population,” the ministry said.

The development represents another blow to Russia, which failed to take Kiev in the early weeks of the war and withdrew from the area around the Ukrainian capital to launch a renewed offensive in the east of the country.

Finnish leaders say they want to join NATO, sparking Russian pushback

Finland’s leaders this week called on the country to join NATO “without delay”, prompting Russia to reiterate its opposition to such a move.

“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defense alliance,” Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement.

“Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay,” they said. “We hope that the national steps that are still necessary to make this decision will be taken quickly in the coming days.”

Speaking to Niinistö on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Finland should not apply for NATO membership, as security is not threatened, and if it did, it could “negatively” affect Russian-Finnish relations.

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, a Russian official said the country would go after Finland or Sweden if they pursued NATO membership.

“Finland and Sweden should not base their security on harming the security of other countries and their accession to NATO could have adverse and some military and political consequences,” said Maria Zakharova, the spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry. in February.

The Russian attack on Ukraine has prompted both Finland and Sweden to reconsider their absence from NATO, which obliges members to defend each other if attacked.

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