22.09.2022
Ukraine aid faces tougher crowd if Republicans take over

The course of U.S. aid to Ukraine could hinge on the outcome of the November midterm elections.

Congress is poised to approve billions more in military aid next week as part of a deal to keep the government open past the Nov. 8 elections, but future deals may be caught up in Republican infighting over federal spending that’s emerged in recent months, primarily in the House, if they win in November.

President Joe Biden’s latest request for nearly $12 billion is unlikely to be controversial as lawmakers haggle over myriad other proposals that could be attached to a stopgap funding bill. And though many GOP defense hawks argue the bulk of the party will still support efforts to repel Vladimir Putin’s invasion, a divide between the party’s establishment wing and conservatives aligned with former President Donald Trump suggests the window for massive emergency bills — like a $40 billion package passed in May — is closing.

“There is some push, but I think the majority [will] support Ukraine because it’s in our national security interest,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) predicted. “Now, I don’t know that we’ll do a $40 billion clip like we did before.”

Lawmakers are likely to deliver fresh Ukraine funding as part of a continuing resolution before Oct. 1 to prevent a shutdown. Congress has approved tens of billions in emergency security and humanitarian assistance since Russia launched its invasion in February, while the administration has shipped billions worth of weapons and equipment from military inventories.

“The CR will pass and with full Ukraine aid, I predict,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense expert with the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “But there is no doubt the era of large emergency supplemental spending bills for Ukraine end with this next one for a variety of reasons.

“It would be too simplistic to say it is one issue more than another at this point. But voters are speaking up to conservative members of Congress,” Eaglen added. “This is really driven from the grassroots to Washington and not the other way around.”

Republicans accounted for the only votes this spring against the $40 billion aid package — the largest and most extensive commitment to Ukraine so far — with 57 House members and 11 senators opposing the legislation. Opponents of the package and further emergency aid argued more needs to be done to account for how the money is spent and to trace weapons and equipment sent into the fight against Russia.

Conservative opponents have also argued that non-offset spending comes at the expense of addressing domestic issues they’ve hammered Biden and Democrats on, including high inflation and immigration.

“A lot of Republicans said, ‘I voted for that one, I’m not going to vote for anymore,’ said one House GOP member who opposed the $40 billion aid bill. “And then the backlash at home was fierce.”

“America can’t afford to provide a blank checkbook to Ukraine when we have inflation, gas prices, supply chain crisis, all of the above, going on at home,” said the lawmaker, who was granted anonymity to speak frankly about the dynamics of the Republican Conference. “That’s what I’m hearing from my voters.”

Republicans are narrowly favored to win the House, while control of the Senate is a toss-up. A Republican House in 2023 will likely be more conservative than previous majorities, which means more skepticism of providing money for Ukraine.

Conservative Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said a GOP majority should “hip check” the White House into explaining how new money will be spent and force offsets for emergency spending such as the funding approved for Ukraine. He blasted other Republicans who “use defense as an excuse to spend all manners of money.”

“Where is guns and butter anymore? We just keep writing checks,” Roy said. “There’s no limiting principle. So no, count me against throwing more money at Ukraine without having a serious conversation about guns and butter, a serious conversation about why we’re spending it and how it’s in our national security interest.”

“BREAKING: Congress has agreed on a bill to fund the government,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tweeted on Monday. “UNFORTUNATELY: it’s the government of Ukraine.”

For now, defense hawks have racked up a series of wins. They have increased Ukraine assistance, and have criticized the administration for not speeding up the delivery of weapons or providing specific systems Ukraine’s government has requested. Defense-oriented Republicans have also leveraged billions of dollars in hikes to Biden’s military spending plans, with an eye toward attaining $1 trillion national defense budget in the next few years.

Disagreements have been more muted among Senate Republicans. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has aggressively pushed for more Ukraine cash, though fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul delayed quick passage of Ukraine aid in May.

The dynamics in a potential GOP-led House are more complex. Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will have to contend with a growing right flank that’s been a headache for leadership in the past and is already making demands on federal spending.

The difficulty of House Republican leaders’ task depends on the size of the GOP majority and “what percentage of them are the real militant folks as opposed to the more pragmatic segment,” said Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee who is in line to chair the panel.

If Republicans only eke out a small majority, he said, “It’s a disaster,”

“It’ll be just like when we were in the majority last time,” Rogers told POLITICO. “We’ll be paralyzed. On everything.”

“Whoever’s whip is going to have a big job ahead of them” convincing conservatives, added Rep. Ken Calvert of California, the top Republican on the panel that controls Pentagon funding.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus is calling on GOP leaders to reject any government funding deal in the lame duck period after the midterms. Banking on control of the House and Senate, the group instead wants leaders to push for a funding freeze into the new year so Republicans can slash spending to levels last seen when Trump and the GOP were in control.

That effort could complicate a GOP fight to boost Pentagon spending. And some conservatives say they want more accountability for emergency spending on Ukraine and potentially even offsets to be on the table.

“To me, we need to demand accountability for how that money’s being spent so we know on a granular basis that it’s not just being squandered in Ukraine,” Freedom Caucus Chair Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said.

Roy and 41 other Republicans also vowed this week in a letter to oppose any funding patch that ends during the current Democratic-controlled Congress.

Biden has requested $11.7 billion in military and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine to be included in a government funding deal. That includes $4.5 billion to arm Ukraine and replenish stocks of weapons shipped to Kyiv and $2.7 billion to continue military and intelligence support. The administration has also asked Congress to authorize shipping another $3.6 billion worth of weapons to Ukraine.

The proposal comes as a Ukrainian counteroffensive continues to reclaim territory occupied by Russian forces.

The administration has also signaled a shift toward long-term support for Kyiv as the war grinds on, including billions of dollars to fund contracts to the U.S. defense industry to produce artillery rounds, missiles and other weapons rather than pulling existing weapons off the shelf.

With just over a month until midterms, some Democrats are warning handing the reins to Republicans will jeopardize U.S. backing for Ukraine.

“They’re all coming out and saying it openly,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said. He argued a GOP majority could mean the money “goes away or Ukraine aid is going to be very difficult to get … and [Republicans] are going to be so inflexible that they’re not going to deal with the real conditions on the ground.

“It’s because Tucker Carlson controls the ideological spectrum when it comes to foreign policy and he’s a dumbass when it comes to foreign policy,” Gallego said.

“I’ve talked to a couple of the members that have voted for pro-Ukraine legislation in the past. They have town halls now where they come and get yelled at using Tucker Carlson talking points. And of course at some point they’re going to have to deal with primaries.”

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  • 2 часа, 55 минут назад 05.10.2022Defense
    Top Pentagon official hails Ukraine gains as a ‘significant’ accomplishment

    Ukraine’s recent battlefield wins in the east and south of the country are a “significant operational accomplishment,” a top Pentagon official said Tuesday, the same day the Biden administration announced it would transfer another $625 million of weapons to Kyiv.

    The gains come as Vladimir Putin moved on Tuesday to formally and illegally annex four regions of Ukraine — Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — which include areas retaken by Kyiv over the last few days.

    “Even as the Russian government moves legislation today to claim parts of Ukrainian territory illegitimately, the reality on the ground is that the Ukrainian armed forces continue to reclaim territory and consolidate their claims,” said Laura Cooper, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian affairs.

    Cooper praised Ukraine’s liberation of the strategic railway hub of Lyman in the east over the weekend as Kyiv’s forces push into the Donbas region. Over the past 24 hours, Ukraine has made major gains in the south of the country as well, around the Kherson region, Cooper said, confirming Ukrainian reports of their progress.

    The latest arms package, the first of the new fiscal year, is tailored to fit Kyiv’s needs as forces continue to retake territory on two fronts. It includes four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, bringing to 20 the total number systems the U.S. has provided. It also includes 200 MaxxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, a major increase from the 40 the Biden administration transferred to Kyiv in August.

    The new MRAPs, which are well-known for protecting troops from roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, will provide Ukraine with a “resilient capability for transporting troops in heavily mined terrain,” Cooper said.

    The package, which involves drawing down equipment from existing stocks, is the first since Sept. 15. It also includes artillery, precision-guided and mortar rounds, small-arms ammunition and anti-personnel mines.

    The new weapons will provide Kyiv with the “additional capability and munitions that it needs to maintain momentum in the east and the south, including additional artillery and precision fires,” Cooper said.

    Ukraine has recently renewed calls for Washington to send longer-range rockets for the HIMARS — the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS — but so far the administration has refused.

    The Pentagon assesses that Ukraine can hit “the vast majority of targets on the battlefield” with the shorter-range rockets being provided, including in Crimea, Cooper said.

    “Just to be clear, Crimea is Ukraine,” she added.

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  • 1 день назад 04.10.2022Defense
    U.S. to send Ukraine more advanced rocket systems, officials say

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. will soon deliver to Ukraine four more of the advanced rocket systems credited with helping the country’s military gain momentum in its war with Russia.

    The High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARS, will be part of a new $625 million package of aid expected to be announced on Tuesday, according to U.S. officials.

    The decision marks the first time the U.S. has sent more HIMARS to Ukraine since late July, and it will bring the total number delivered so far to 20. The systems have become a key tool in Ukraine’s ability to strike bridges that Russia has used to supply its troops, enabling Ukrainian forces to make inroads in Russia-controlled regions.

    The U.S. in recent weeks also provided funding through a separate program — the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative — so another 18 HIMARS can be purchased through longer-term contracts. USAI funds are being used as part of the effort by the U.S. and Western allies to ensure Ukraine’s forces are trained and equipped to defend their country in the years to come. But those contracts will take several years to fulfill.

    The latest aid package is also expected to include other ammunition and equipment for Ukraine’s troops. Several U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of the package ahead of the announcement. This is the first tranche of U.S. aid delivered in the new fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

    Ukraine has pressed its counteroffensive in the Kherson region since the summer, relentlessly pummeling Russian supply lines and making inroads into Russian-held areas west of the Dnieper River. Ukrainian troops have been using the HIMARS to repeatedly hit the main bridge across the Dnieper and a dam that served as a second crossing. It also has struck pontoon bridges that Russia has used to supply its troops.

    Ukraine’s battlefield successes in Kherson are notable since that is one of the four areas that Russia is in the process of annexing.

    A senior U.S. military official said Monday that the attacks by Ukrainian forces have forced Russia into a “defensive crouch” in Kherson, hampering Russian efforts to resupply their frontline troops.

    The official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to provide a U.S. military assessment of the war, said that so far the U.S. has seen only small numbers of Russian reinforcements coming into Ukraine in an effort to shore up their defenses. Russia has said it will mobilize upwards of 300,000 conscripts to send to Ukraine.

    The official also said that despite persistent Russian threats to use nuclear force, the U.S. has seen no moves by the Kremlin that would cause the U.S. to change its own nuclear posture.

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  • 1 день, 4 часа назад 03.10.2022Defense
    ‘Lots of heavy fighting ahead’: U.S. officials urge caution after Ukrainian gains

    The U.S. assesses that Ukraine’s battlefield gains on the eastern and southern fronts over the past three days are strategically important, but Kyiv is still far from a decisive victory, according to two U.S. officials.

    In the east, Kyiv’s forces over the weekend captured the city of Lyman, a strategic railway hub, and continued to push east into the Donetsk region. Meanwhile in the south, Ukrainian soldiers broke through Moscow’s defensive lines in the Kherson region, gateway to the port city of Odesa.

    These gains are a significant blow to Vladimir Putin, coming just days after he declared that Russia is annexing those regions — Donetsk and Kherson — as well as Zaporizhzhia and Luhansk after a series of sham referendums last week. On the home front, Putin is also facing challenges in mobilizing new troops for the fight, with reservists showing up with little training or equipment.

    Ukraine’s victory in Lyman undermines Putin’s foothold in the eastern Donetsk region and “could turn into a cascading series of defeats for the Russians,” retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, former national security adviser, said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

    “What we might be here is really at the precipice of really the collapse of the Russian army in Ukraine,” McMaster said. “They must really be at a breaking point.”

    The advances in Kherson on Monday, meanwhile, represent a breakthrough after the incremental advances experienced by Ukrainian forces since they began their southern counteroffensive in September. Ukrainian troops burst through Russia’s defensive lines and advanced rapidly along the western bank of Dnipro River on Monday, recapturing a number of villages and threatening resupply lines for thousands of Russian troops.

    “It shows the Ukrainians are capable of multiple operations,” said Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and retired CIA official. “It also will be key to follow-on operations to include potentially taking control of water supply for the Crimean peninsula.”

    But current officials cautioned that Kyiv’s most recent gains should not be overstated, and that Russian forces are holding steady in other areas such as nearby Bakhmut, in the Donetsk. The fight in the Donbas will be particularly grueling, as Russian forces are fighting from existing trenches and shelters they’ve held for years.

    “There’s lots of heavy fighting ahead,” said one Defense Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal assessments.

    “It’s important strategically, but they still have a long way to go,” said a second U.S. official, who also requested anonymity.

    Looming over the battlefield gains is the simmering threat that the conflict could turn nuclear. Western officials are concerned Putin could use the annexations as an excuse to claim Ukrainian forces are attacking Russian territory and escalate the conflict, including potentially using a tactical nuclear weapon.

    The U.S., however, has not received any indications that would prompt it to change its strategic posture, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, said on CNN Monday, adding “we’re watching this as closely as we can.”

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  • 2 дня, 8 часов назад 02.10.2022Defense
    Austin stops short of endorsing Biden’s vow to defend Taiwan

    Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declined to directly endorse President Joe Biden’s statement that the U.S. military would defend Taiwan if China invaded, saying that America’s priority is helping Taiwan prepare to protect itself.

    Speaking on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” in an interview that aired Sunday, Austin said: “In accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, we’re committed to helping Taiwan develop the capability to defend itself. And that work has gone on over time and will continue into the future.”

    In an interview that aired two weeks ago on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Biden stated that the United States would defend Taiwan if it were to be attacked and then reiterated his position when interviewer Scott Pelley asked him about it again.

    Zakaria noted that Biden went beyond what has been stated U.S. policy. He asked Austin: “Is the American military prepared to do that?”

    “The American military is always prepared to protect our interests, and live up to our commitments,” Austin said.

    He added: “I think the president was clear in providing his answers as he responded to a hypothetical question. But, again, we continue to work to make sure that we have the right capabilities in the right places to ensure that we help our allies maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

    American policy toward Taiwan has been fuzzy in many areas since the 1970s, when the U.S. belatedly recognized China, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory. Taiwan is where nationalist forces fled to at the conclusion of Mao Zedong’s victory in China’s long civil war in 1949, and China has always made it clear it wants Taiwan back.

    “We don’t want to see a unilateral change to the status quo,” Austin told Zakaria.

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  • 4 дня назад 01.10.2022Defense
    ‘He’s not going to scare us’: Why the West isn’t buying Putin’s bluster

    Vladimir Putin gave a chest-thumping speech on Friday when he declared he was seizing four territories in Ukraine and lashed out at Western countries he claimed are influenced by “satanism.”

    But the reality in Ukraine tells a different story, one in which Russia continues to lose territory and where momentum has clearly shifted to the Ukrainians.

    World leaders, lawmakers and experts quickly dismissed Putin’s claims on Friday, using words such as “sham” and “phony” and “invented reality” to describe his declaration that territories that are not under his control will somehow become a part of Russia.

    “He’s not going to scare us nor intimidate us,” President Joe Biden said of Putin. “Putin’s actions are a sign he is struggling, the sham referendum he carried out, and his routine he put on … the United States is never going to recognize this, and quite frankly the world is not going to recognize it either.”

    Leaders from across Europe read from the same playbook, pledging to support Ukraine and punish Russia for subverting international law by attempting, again, to steal Ukrainian territory.

    The U.K.’s Chief of Defense Staff, Adm. Sir Tony Radakin, who spoke to reporters Friday during a visit to Washington, called the annexation “the invented reality of Putin, and the actual reality is that he’s declared these four territories as part of Russia, but he doesn’t even have control of those four territories.”

    The swift rejection of Putin’s annexation announcement and his hints that he could use nuclear weapons show how global perception of his military and its competence have changed since the start of the war. His reputation, once feared, has been so damaged by his disastrous invasion that the threats he has used for so long to shape the geopolitical narrative no longer carry the power they once did.

    Moscow has faced a torrent of setbacks and humiliations since Ukrainians launched their two-pronged counteroffensive this month. Rapid gains using modern, NATO-furnished weapons forced massive and panicked Russian retreats around the city of Kherson, pushing Russian forces back into their own country or into several shrinking pockets inside Ukraine.

    The forecast for Russian forces over the next few weeks and months is equally grim, as conscripts with little training head to the front to face battle-hardened Ukrainians backed by new Western equipment, with more shipments arriving weekly.

    Videos have emerged online of Russian officers telling conscripts to bring their own medical supplies and sleeping bags to the front, as Moscow is expected to leave its troops unsupported in the field.

    “Russia doesn’t have enough people to crew the equipment that they’ve got,” Radakin said. “The equipment they’ve got is quite substantial, but much of it is ancient and in a bad condition. And then [Putin] had to go through this partial mobilization…you then start to see a feature of this mobilization is not people rushing to recruitment offices, but it’s people rushing to leave the country.”

    A senior Defense Department official, who like others in this story requested anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said there have been no significant moves by Russian forces either before or after Putin’s speech on Friday, further suggesting that nothing at all had changed on the ground, at least in the Kremlin’s favor.

    In fact, Russian troops in the city of Lyman in Donetsk Oblast — an area Putin on Friday said was now part of Russia — have been almost completely surrounded by Ukrainian forces who have cut off supply lines to the garrison. On Friday, Ukrainian commanders began calling for the Russian forces there to negotiate a surrender.

    Lyman has for months been a key logistics and supply hub for Russian forces fighting in the country’s east, and its loss would further cripple the already stretched Russian resupply lines in areas increasingly contested by Ukrainian forces.

    The continued loss of territory that Russia now claims as its own, along with the new sanctions packages announced by the U.S. and U.K. on Friday, will further squeeze the Kremlin’s ability to wage war and undermine the army’s ability to hold ground.

    “Russia will struggle to hold the territory it claims to have annexed,” the Institute for the Study of War said in an analysis Friday. “Putin likely intends annexation to freeze the war along the current frontlines and allow time for Russian mobilization to reconstitute Russian forces.”

    The institute, along with the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, also generated a map on Friday showing that the four territories ready to be annexed actually include wide swaths of land still controlled by Ukraine.

    While leaders have warned that declaring the territories part of Russia could serve as a pretext for escalating the war, Putin’s options are just as limited as they were before his announcement.

    Ukraine has hobbled Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and ship captains now avoid the coastline out of fear of being struck by missiles. The Russian air force mostly shies away from flying over Ukrainian airspace, and the Kremlin is woefully short of allies willing to enter the conflict. That leaves his ground force, which he is now stocking with untrained conscripts.

    And even though Putin and other Russian officials have hinted at deploying tactical nuclear weapons, the U.S. assesses the probability as low. “We’ve not seen anything that indicates we should change our posture,” one senior DoD official said.

    One European diplomat pointed out that Russian warnings against attacking the annexed territories ring hollow, and not only because Putin is already losing ground in those regions.

    “Ukraine has hit Russian targets in Crimea several times, and Putin didn’t respond even though he claims Crimea is now part of Russia, too,” the diplomat said.

    And more Western weapons are funneling into Ukraine. At the White House, national security adviser Jake Sullivan noted the $1.1 billion arms package announced this week, “and we expect to have another announcement of immediate security assistance to announce next week.”

    The package will be worth several hundred million dollars, an administration official confirmed to POLITICO.

    Drawing the aid out ensures that Ukraine can absorb the shipments of tens of thousands of artillery rounds, radars and armored vehicles, but also maintains the “psychological impact” of announcing regular packages of NATO-caliber weaponry to bolster Ukrainian allies and depress the morale of Russian forces and leadership, the official said.

    Putin is trying to raise that morale, but his bluster on Friday is little more than a “fiction” of Russia’s strength and competence, Radakin said. He cautioned against overreacting.

    That fiction “is a feature of weakness, and the pressure that Russia is under,” he said. “We’ve got to be very careful in responding to fictions.”

    Lara Seligman contributed to this report

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  • 4 дня, 6 часов назад 30.09.2022Defense
    News The Buckshee

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday stopped short of backing Ukraine’s request for an “accelerated accession” to join NATO, hours after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced the bid in response to Moscow declaring it had annexed four regions of Ukraine.

    When asked by POLITICO if she backed Ukraine’s NATO accession, Pelosi declined to explicitly endorse it, but said she supports a “security guarantee” for Kyiv.

    “We are very committed to democracy in Ukraine,” Pelosi said. “Let’s win this war. But I would be for them having a security guarantee.”

    Her remarks came shortly before the House passed a temporary government funding bill that provides $12 billion in Ukraine aid as the war enters the critical winter months. While Pelosi was speaking, lawmakers were hosting a group of Ukrainian parliamentarians outside the Capitol building, where a different message was delivered.

    “Ukraine’s fight is the reason we formed NATO in the first place,” said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who recently traveled to Kyiv and met with Zelenskyy. “After the Second World War, we recognized that an authoritarian regime cannot be allowed to wipe out a democratic country. I think we need to support this.”

    Ukraine’s NATO membership has long been a thorny subject in Washington due to Article 5 of the charter, which requires the U.S. to militarily defend any member-nation that comes under attack. As the likelihood of a fuller-scale Russian invasion rose in the past decade, Ukraine sought those security guarantees even as many in the U.S. became anxious over the prospect of fighting a war with Russia.

    The West fears that Ukraine’s immediate entry into NATO — which requires the unanimous approval of all 30 member-nations — would put the U.S. and Russia at war due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as well as its forced annexations announced Friday.

    Some allies of former President Donald Trump have even sought to convince Ukraine to commit to not joining NATO as a way to placate Vladimir Putin, even though the U.S. believed that the Russian leader was going to invade Ukraine anyway and was simply looking for a pretext.

    Earlier on Friday, Zelenskyy gave a video address asking for fast-track admission to NATO, following Putin’s declaration that four territories in Ukraine’s east would become a part of Russia.

    “We trust each other, we help each other and we protect each other. This is what the alliance is. De facto. Today, Ukraine is applying to make it de jure,” Zelenskyy said.

    Putin, during a Friday ceremony at the Kremlin, vowed to use all the powers at his disposal to defend the four territories following forced annexation referendums this week.

    U.S. and European countries condemned the referendums as a pretext to further violate Ukraine’s sovereignty. President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. would be imposing additional sanctions on Moscow in response to Putin’s latest move.

    During his address, Putin called upon Kyiv to cease military action and said Moscow was open to negotiations, although Ukraine has long insisted that it will not stop fighting until Russian forces pull out of the country.

    Zelenskyy responded in his own address that, although Ukraine was open to negotiations, it was “impossible” to do so with Putin, and would have to be with another Russian president.

    David Arakhamia, a Ukrainian lawmaker who joined lawmakers in Washington on Friday, said “we are ready to talk to Russia, but not to Putin.” Arakhamia also vowed that Ukraine will “forcefully” take back the eastern territories that were annexed.

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Defense Ukraine aid faces tougher crowd if Republicans take over