US lawmakers pledge to release US$10 billion in aid to Ukraine's Zelensky

People watch Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on a screen addressing anti-war demonstrations in several European cities on March 4, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US lawmakers pledged in a video call on Saturday (March 5) with Ukraine's president to provide a further US$10 billion (S$13 billion) in assistance as the besieged country faces a Russian onslaught.

In the call with American legislators of both parties, President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated a plea for Russian-made planes.

The US Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, cited by a source briefed on the call, said Democrats and Republicans were "working very hard" towards passing the relief package.

"We will get that assistance of over US$10 billion in economic, humanitarian and security assistance to the Ukrainian people quickly," he said.

The bipartisan effort was underlined by Republican Senator Steve Daines, who told Fox News after the call that lawmakers were "unified in our support for Ukraine."

"We need to pass this US$10 billion relief package," he said, adding that half would go towards humanitarian aid and half would be in military assistance.

"They need more force on the ground," he said, as Russian units pressed their offensive in Ukraine for a 10th day.

Zelensky, wearing a military-green T-shirt and seated beside a Ukrainian flag, also urged Congress to bolster already broad sanctions on Russia, including on its oil and gas sector - a move some US lawmakers have also called for as the war in Ukraine intensifies.

But the White House has ruled this out so far, fearing it might cause rising oil prices to go up even more and hurt US consumers stung by record inflation.

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Zelensky also "made a desperate plea for Eastern European countries to provide Russian-made planes" that Ukrainians are trained to fly, Schumer said in a statement after the call, adding he would work to "help the administration to facilitate their transfer."

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham underscored that Nato countries had such warplanes.

"They are waiting to be delivered and apparently the United States is part of the problem not the solution," Graham said in a video posted on Twitter.

"With planes and drones, President Zelensky indicated that Ukraine would be a more effective fighting force. So let's get them the planes and drones they need."

Last week, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said EU countries were willing to send fighter jets to Ukraine.

But no planes have yet been delivered, with the countries concerned - Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia - expressing hesitancy over the move.

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