The US House of Representatives has given final approval to a $US45 billion ($67 billion) aid package for Ukraine, as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy returned from Washington with the promise of Patriot missiles to help fend off Russia’s invasion.
The measure, part of a $US1.66 trillion ($2.47 trillion) government funding bill that passed the Senate a day earlier, will now go to US President Joe Biden for signing into law.
The military and economic assistance follows US aid worth about $US50 billion sent to Ukraine this year as well sanctions imposed on Russia by the West that now include a cap on Russian oil prices.
Russia responded to the cap on Friday by threatening to cut oil output by 5-7 per cent early next year through halting sales to countries that support the measure.
Mr Zelenskyy has long sought Patriot surface-to-air missiles to help counter Russian air strikes, which have razed cities, towns and villages during 10 months of conflict and knocked out power and water supply across the country over the past three months.
The Ukraine president said in his Telegram channel: “We are coming back from Washington with … something that will really help.”
US officials say, however, that the single Patriot battery that Mr Biden told Mr Zelenskyy would be supplied to Ukraine would not change the course of the war.
Washington and its allies have been unwilling to supply Kyiv with modern battle tanks and long-range missiles called ATACMS that could reach far behind front lines and into Russia itself.
Kyiv and the Biden administration are wary that retaining US Congressional support for aid could become more complicated when Republicans take a slim majority in the House in the new year: a few right-wing Republicans oppose aid and other lawmakers have called for tighter oversight.
Russia begins demolition of Mariupol theatre
Russian authorities in the occupied city of Mariupol began demolishing most of the city’s drama theatre, where Ukrainian authorities say hundreds died in an air bombardment in March.
Video posted on both Ukrainian and Russian websites on Friday showed heavy equipment taking down much of the building, while leaving its front facade intact.
Ukrainian officials denounced the demolition as a bid to cover up the deaths in the March 16 bombardment and wipe out Ukrainian culture.
Russian officials said it was part of plans to rebuild the theatre in a city firmly under their control.
“The Mariupol Theatre no longer exists,” Ukrainian Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko wrote on Facebook.
“The occupiers are removing traces of their crimes and couldn’t care less whether this is cultural heritage or whether it belongs to another culture.”
Russia’s Tass news agency quoted the theatre’s director, Igor Solonin, as saying the demolition concerned “only that part of the building that is impossible to restore”.
Plans called for reconstruction to be complete by the end of 2024.
The bombing of the theatre was part of a protracted Russian siege of Mariupol, a port on the Sea of Azov seen as critical to Russian supply lines between areas its forces control in southern and eastern Ukraine.
Civilians had taken refuge in the theatre and large signs emblazoned simply with “Children” had been erected on either side of it. Ukrainian officials said at least 300 people were killed during the Russian bombing, though some estimates said the toll was higher.
Russia denied bombing the theatre deliberately.
Mariupol held out for more than two months out against Russian assaults which left most of its buildings in ruins.
Petro Andryushchenko, an advisor to the exiled mayor of Mariupol, said that despite demolition, the truth about the theatre bombing “will not stay hidden no matter what they do”.
“There is enough video evidence, witness testimonies and those who survived,” he said.
Ukraine repels Russia attacks on 17 towns
Ukraine has driven Russian forces from the areas around its capital Kyiv and its second biggest city Kharkiv.
Moscow is now focused on holding areas its forces occupy in southern and eastern Ukraine — around a fifth of the country.
Ukrainian forces repelled attacks on at least 17 settlements in eastern Ukraine, its general staff said early on Friday.
It added that Kremlin forces had launched 12 missile and air strikes, including on civilian targets, away from the front lines in eastern and south-eastern Ukraine.
The exiled mayor of Russian-occupied Melitopol in the south said more Russian troops had been brought into the city and were strengthening fortifications, with residents now only able to leave on foot.
A car bomb went off in the city earlier in the day, Ivan Fedorov added in his online media briefing.
Russian forces shelled the southern Kherson region 61 times in 24 hours, half of those within Kherson city, killing one person, Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych said. Russia withdrew from that city last month.
In the neighbouring Zaporizhzhia region, a governor installed by Russia, Yevgeny Balitsky, said shelling of the nuclear power plant there had “almost stopped” but Russian troops would not leave.
Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of risking nuclear disaster in fighting near the plant, Europe’s largest, and the United Nations has called for a safe zone there.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which has called for a safe zone around the plant to reduce the risk of nuclear disaster, said talks with the two sides were making progress on the issue.
The battlefield reports could not be independently verified.
Source : ABC