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US aid package needed within a month, says Zelenskyy

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President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told the US that Ukraine needs the $60bn aid currently stuck in a congressional stand-off within a month.

Zelenskyy said the long-awaited package was about military not financial support and that he was unsure Ukraine would be able to find the types and amounts of weapons it needed if the funding did not materialise.

“Our position on the battlefield will be weaker [without it],” Zelenskyy said, speaking at a conference in Kyiv on Sunday.

He gave the example of US-made Patriot air-defence systems, which have helped protect key cities from Russian missiles, but cost around $1.5bn and which Ukraine could not afford without US support.

Zelenskyy said Europe could not replace the US in terms of weapons supply, pointing to the continent’s shortage of air-defence systems, although he said it could supply more long-range missiles.

The EU has provided Ukraine with a €50bn aid package, but this is mostly financial rather than military support.

If the US does not pass the bill, “it will leave me wondering what world we are living in”, Zelenskyy said, but added that he was confident that the US Congress would ultimately agree to the package. Although Ukraine would “search for others, loans and exert pressure on partners” if needed, he added.

In a show of solidarity with Ukraine, western leaders arrived in Kyiv on Saturday to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion. But the main thrust of western backing still lies in the US aid package which is beyond the control of the White House or Europe.

Following Zelenskyy’s comments, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan pressed Republican congressional leaders to unlock assistance to Ukraine.

“We need money to be able to provide the weapons to Ukraine. We don’t have the money. Only Congress can provide the money,” Sullivan said in an interview with CNN on Sunday.

He called on House Speaker Mike Johnson to “bust through the politics in his caucus” and put US President Joe Biden’s aid package request to a floor vote.

Zelenskyy reiterated during his speech that Ukraine had no plans to enter into negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite the deteriorating situation on the front and the gap in crucial military aid from the US.

Russia has not been invited to the four peace talks Ukraine has held over the past year in Europe and the Middle East, with the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, saying that the Kremlin would only be asked after a change in Russian leadership.

Zelenskyy characterised negotiating as a dead end for Ukraine and Ukrainians. “The hardest bit was two years ago and we have no alternative. If we lose, there will be no us,” he said.

He also rebutted reports that Ukraine’s military losses were in the hundreds of thousands, citing a total of 31,000 soldiers killed but declining to confirm injury numbers. Russia’s total casualties were around 500,000, he claimed.

But Zelenskyy’s figures fall well short of the 70,000 Ukrainians killed that US officials gave to The New York Times in August — and many more have died since while repelling fierce Russian attacks in Ukraine’s east, where Russia is trying to capture land.

Russia took the strategic eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka last week, after four months of fighting. Russian forces have since advanced westwards, capturing previously Ukrainian-controlled village Pobeda in the Donetsk region, according to a Ukrainian commander from the 24th brigade.

Ukraine defence minister Rustem Umerov, who also spoke at the conference, said that half of western military aid was being delivered late, leading to the loss of territory and people.

But overall, Ukrainian officials emphasised their belief that western support would continue and that they would be able to find solutions in order to win the war against Russia.

“We already have a plan for 2024, but we will not talk about it publicly. The plan is powerful, strong and will give us not only hope but a result in 2024,” said Umerov.

To mitigate the deficit created by wavering US support, Ukraine planned to triple domestic weapons production, said Oleksandr Kamyshin, Ukraine’s minister of strategic industries.

He added that Kyiv also aimed to build its own air-defence system this year and introduce Ukrainian-made land drones on a large scale, adding that Ukrainian-made weapons had proved effective and were inexpensive.

“The war will not be won by those with the most resources but by those who use them most effectively,” said Kamyshin.

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