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Senate backs huge military and economic aid package for Ukraine

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer welcomed the vote (Scott Applewhite/AP)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer welcomed the vote (Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a 40 billion dollar (£32bn) infusion of military and economic aid for Ukraine as both parties rallied behind America’s latest financial salvo against Russia’s invasion.

The 86-11 vote gave final congressional approval to the package, three weeks after President Joe Biden requested a smaller 33 billion dollar (£26bn) version and after a lone Republican opponent delayed Senate passage for a week.

Every Democrat and all but 11 Republicans — many of them supporters of former president Donald Trump’s isolationist agenda — backed the measure.

Mr Biden’s quick signature was certain as Russia’s attack, which has mauled Ukraine’s forces and cities, slogs into a fourth month with no obvious end ahead.

That means more casualties and destruction in Ukraine, which has relied heavily on US and Western assistance for its survival, especially advanced arms, with requests for more aid potentially looming.

“Help is on the way, really significant help. Help that could make sure that the Ukrainians are victorious,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, underscoring a goal by Ukraine and its allies that seemed nearly unthinkable when Russia launched its brutal assault three months ago.

The vote was a glaring exception to the partisan divisions that have hindered work on other issues under Mr Biden and that promise to become only less bridgeable as November’s elections for control of Congress draw closer.

That includes Republicans blocking Democrats from including billions to combat the relentless pandemic in the measure, leaving their efforts to battle Covid-19 in limbo.

Last week the House approved the Ukraine bill 368-57, with all of those opposed Republicans.

Though support in both chambers was unmistakably bipartisan, the Republican defections were noteworthy after Mr Trump, still a potent force in the party, complained that such sums should first be targeted at domestic problems.

Mr Schumer called it “beyond troubling” that Republicans were opposing the Ukraine assistance. “It appears more and more that MAGA Republicans are on the same soft-on-Putin playbook that we saw used by former president Trump,” said Mr Schumer, using the Make America Great Again acronym Democrats have been using to cast those Republicans as extremists.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a strong backer of the measure, addressed concerns by his Republican colleagues.

He said Ukraine’s defeat would jeopardise America’s European trading partners, increase US security costs there and embolden autocrats in China and elsewhere to grab territory in their regions.

“The most expensive and painful thing America could possibly do in the long run would be to stop investing in sovereignty, stability and deterrence before it’s too late,” Mr McConnell said.

On Wednesday, Mr Schumer said he was not confident this would be the final measure to help Ukraine. “They’re doing the fighting, they’re the ones getting killed, they’re the ones struggling and suffering. The least we can do is give them the weaponry they need,” he said.

The legislation contains around 24 billion dollars for weapons, equipment and military financing for Ukraine, restoring Pentagon stocks of arms sent to the region and paying for US reinforcements sent there.

The rest includes economic aid to keep Mr Zelensky’s government functioning, food programmes for countries that rely on Ukraine’s diminished crop production, refugee assistance and funds for Kyiv to investigate Russian war crimes.

Congress approved an initial 13.6 billion dollar measure in March. The combined price tag of nearly 54 billion dollars exceeds what the US spent on all its foreign and military aid in 2019, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.