Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the Trump administration for releasing $250 million in military aid which was delayed last month over concerns that the money was not being spent in the best interests of the United States.
“The president has made no secret when it comes to foreign assistance that U.S. interests abroad should be prioritized and other foreign countries should also be paying their fair share,” a senior administration official told reporters in August.
The move came after US lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pressured the White House – capped off by the threat of an amendement to the $695 billion Pentagon funding lodged by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), which would have prevented Trump from withholding such funds in the future, according to Fox News.
Several Republican senators, including Trump ally Lindsey Graham, said they would have voted with the Democrats on the amendment.
“We support Ukraine. Period. End of discussion,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.
Congress initially approved the aid last month, but Trump asked his national security team to review funding for the program, the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, to ensure it would be used in the best interests of the United States. –Fox News
Speaking at the Yalta European Strategy annual meeting organized by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, Zelensky also announced an additional $140 million which accompanied the release, telling the audience “I like this kind of relationship,” calling it a “very good economic model.”
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said of the decision “It would have been a mistake to hold back our assistance to the brave people of Ukraine. Doing so would have undermined our partners in Ukraine and Eastern Europe and further emboldened the Kremlin,” adding “I criticized President Obama for not responding more swiftly and forcefully to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. I joined my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in pushing that administration to provide assistance to Kyiv.“
The aid represents a substantial boost for Ukraine, whose full 2017 military budget was $5.2 billion. Separately, the State Department is giving $141 million in aid for the country’s military, according to Politico. The aid is seen by Ukraine as important to bolstering the military and keeping Russia at bay.
The administration’s hold on the aid money prompted Trump’s critics to say it was another way the president was going easy on Russian President Vladimir Putin. –Fox News
During his speech and a Q&A session with Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haas, Zelensky vowed to reclaim Crimea from Russia.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We must bring our territories back,” he said, adding that Ukrainian soldiers must be able to return home “as victors,” according to Newsweek.
That said, the former comedian stressed that diplomacy must be the path forward. “I have repeatedly said that diplomacy is the only way to achieve this, and its powerful and effective weapon is sanctions,” adding that sanctions are “the most important weapon.”
The president said he had come under pressure from other nations to lift sanctions on people noting the economic benefits it could have. “You lose money, sorry, we lose people,” he replied. “Unless we restore peace, the sanctions should stay,” he continued.
Nonetheless, the president—whose new party swept a snap parliamentary election in July to solidify his power—acknowledged how difficult it would be to regain control of Crimea, the strategically valuable peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
Haass suggested that Ukraine was implementing a soft power strategy over the Crimea question, seeking to present residents there with a more attractive pro-European liberal Ukrainian society to undermine the Russian nationalism favored by the Kremlin.
But Zelensky refused to be drawn on the sensitive issue, wary that his words would be twisted. Instead, he simply said his team have several ideas of how to restore Ukraine’s pre-war borders. “We will be fighting to bring the Crimea back,” he said, “and not only in words.” –Newsweek
Last week Russia and Ukraine conducted a long-expected prisoner swap, raising hopes of thawing relations between the two countries and ending the fighting which has killed some 13,000 people and wounded 30,000 more.