Washington: U.S. legislators were supposed to approve a $45 billion aid package for Ukraine on Friday, as President Volodymyr Zelensky returned from Washington with the promise of Patriot missiles to help fend off Russia’s invasion.

The military and economic aid, part of a wider government spending bill, follows U.S. aid worth around $50 billion sent to Ukraine this year as well as 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% early next year, by halting sales to the countries that support a measure that seeks to limit Moscow’s ability to fund the war.

Zelensky has long sought Patriot missiles to help counter relentless Russian air strikes, which have razed cities, towns, and villages during 10 months of brutal conflict and knocked out power and water across the country over the past three months. U.S. officials say, however, that the single Patriot battery that President Joe Biden told Zelenskiy 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 the frontlines and into Russia itself. But on Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved the $44.9 billion in new Ukraine aid as part of a U.S. government funding bill. The Democratic-led House of Representatives was set to vote on the bill on Friday.

The bill is expected to pass but it was unclear whether U.S. Congressional support for Ukraine would endure after Republicans take a narrow majority in the House early next year. Even as it fights for its survival, Ukraine is pursuing a fight against domestic corruption to help reassure international donors that their money will be spent well.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would find a way to counter the Patriots while also seeking to end the fighting. “Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict, but, on the contrary, to end this war,” he said.

In response, White House spokesman John Kirby said Russia’s actions showed Putin was set on escalating its invasion.

By using the word war, Putin departed from the usual Kremlin practice of referring to its invasion as a special military operation. A politician in St Petersburg asked prosecutors to investigate Putin over his use of the word, accusing the Kremlin chief of breaking his laws on spreading disinformation.

Nikita Yuferev, an opposition councilor in the city where Putin was born, said he knew his legal challenge would go nowhere, but filed it to expose the mendacity of the system.

“War, in Russian society, is a frightening word. Everyone is brought up by grandparents who lived through World War Two, everyone remembers the saying ‘Anything but war’,” he said.

The Kremlin said significant progress had been achieved toward its stated goal of demilitarizing Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies say Moscow is fighting an illegal war of conquest and suspect its repeated offers of negotiations on its terms are a ploy to buy time after battlefield setbacks.

“We are coming back from Washington with …something that will help,” Zelensky said on his Telegram channel. In later posts, he said he was back in Kyiv and working towards “victory”, thanking the Netherlands for earmarking up to 2.5 billion euros ($2.65 billion) for Ukraine next year.

Ukraine has driven Russian forces from its capital Kyiv and second biggest city Kharkiv and Moscow are now focused on holding on to areas they 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 southeastern 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 neighboring 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.

By Archana

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