Russia–Ukraine War (May 9): US Congress Plans Nearly $40 Billion More for Ukraine, COVID Aid to Wait

The latest on the Russia–Ukraine crisis, May 9. Click here for updates from May 8.

US Congress Plans Nearly $40 Billion More for Ukraine, COVID Aid to Wait

U.S. congressional Democrats agreed to rush $39.8 billion in additional aid for Ukraine, two sources familiar with the proposal said on Monday, easing fears a delayed vote could interrupt the flow of U.S. weapons to the Kyiv government.

The House of Representatives could pass the plan, which exceeds President Joe Biden’s request last month for $33 billion, as soon as Tuesday, and Senate leaders said they were also prepared to move quickly.

A proposal for additional COVID-19-related funding, which some Democrats had wanted to combine with the emergency Ukraine funding, will now be considered separately.

Biden on April 28 asked Congress for $33 billion to support Ukraine, including more than $20 billion in military assistance. That proposal was a dramatic escalation of U.S. funding for the war with Russia.

The new proposal includes an additional $3.4 billion for military aid and $3.4 billion in humanitarian aid, the sources said.

Biden’s fellow Democrats and Republicans both said they supported more aid for Ukraine and would approve emergency funding quickly, but it was delayed by disputes between the parties over whether additional funding for COVID-19 relief or stiffer immigration controls should be included.

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Biden Signs Ukraine ‘Lend-Lease’ Program Bill

Washington sought to portray a united front against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Monday as President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan measure to reboot the World War II-era “lend-lease” program that helped defeat Nazi Germany to bolster Kyiv and Eastern European allies.

The new legislation is largely symbolic, but comes as Congress is poised to unleash more resources of $33 billion or more to fight the war. It all serves as a rejoinder to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has seized on V-E day, the anniversary of Germany’s unconditional surrender and Russia’s biggest patriotic holiday, to rally his people behind the invasion.

Before signing the bill, Biden said that “Putin’s war” was “once more bringing wanton destruction of Europe,” drawing reference to the significance of the day.

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US Suspending Import Taxes on Ukrainian Steel

The United States is suspending 25 percent import taxes on Ukraine’s steel in a show of support for the country’s beleaguered economy during the Russian invasion.

The Commerce Department said Monday that it would withdraw the tariffs for a year. Ukraine accounts for only about 1 percent of U.S. steel exports.

Some of the country’s largest steel communities have been among those hardest hit during the war, including the Mariupol mill that’s the only part of the strategically important port city not under Russian control.

“We can’t just admire the fortitude and spirit of the Ukrainian people—we need to have their backs and support one of the most important industries to Ukraine’s economic well-being,’’ Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo said. “For steel mills to continue as an economic lifeline for the people of Ukraine, they must be able to export their steel.’’

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Polish Officials Say Country Is Ready to Increase Its Energy Assistance to Ukraine

Polish officials say the country is ready to increase its energy assistance to neighboring Ukraine and provide steady deliveries.

Poland’s government ministers made the declaration Monday during a Polish–Ukrainian Energy Forum attended also by other countries and by the International Energy Agency. Climate and Environment minister, Anna Moskwa, said a round-the-clock effort is being set in motion to “ensure energy security to Ukraine.”

Poland has been supplying Ukraine with some energy and fuels ever since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. The level of support is to be increased.

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US, Italy United on Ukraine, With Slightly Different Tones

Italian Premier Mario Draghi meets with U.S. President Joe Biden this week in Washington as Europe faces another “whatever it takes” moment with Russia’s war in Ukraine raging on its eastern flank.

Both Rome and Washington will emphasize their historic friendship and shared desire to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia’s 2-month-old invasion when the leaders meet on Tuesday. Energy, climate change, and promoting global economic prosperity also are on the agenda.

Still, there are differences in tone over the war, and public sentiment in Italy against sending arms to Ukraine is growing.

Draghi is pushing for even a limited truce to allow talks to resume, mindful also of the impact on Italy should the war spill over Ukraine’s borders. Statements by Biden and his emissaries have been more aggressive, suggesting both regime change and the goal of weakening Russia.

These differences reflect not only Italy’s geographic closeness to the fighting, but also its historic political and economic ties with Russia. Italy gets 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia, and economic trade last year amounted to 20 billion euros ($21 billion)—much of that for energy purchases that Italy is trying to divert elsewhere.

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UN Rights Session Planned on Ukraine, to Address Mariupol ‘Mass Casualties’

The U.N. Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Ukraine this week, an official said on Monday, after Kyiv called for a review of the situation there, including reports of mass casualties in Mariupol.

Diplomats told Reuters that the meeting, set to take place on Thursday, could include a resolution that would task the newly formed Commission of Inquiry into the war with providing a detailed report to the council later this year.

Among at least 55 signatory countries to a letter requesting the meeting were Germany, Britain, Turkey, and the United States.

Diplomats supporting Ukraine said the expression of solidarity was important amid fears that Russian attacks could intensify as Moscow marks the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

U.N. Human Rights Council spokesperson Rolando Gomez told Reuters the meeting would take place on Thursday.

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Putin Tells Experts to Work on Trade Payments With Allies and ‘Unfriendly’ States

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered the creation of a working group on international payments whose tasks will include figuring out terms for transactions with “unfriendly” states.

Putin said in March that Russia, the world’s largest natural gas producer, would require countries it deems hostile to pay for fuel in roubles by opening accounts at Gazprombank and making payments in euros or dollars that would be converted into Russian currency.

Poland and Bulgaria refused to comply, and Russian energy giant Gazprom cut them off last month. The Kremlin has said the same will happen to anyone else who rejects the new payment terms.

The working group will come up with “an infrastructure for international payments, including in Russian roubles, with trading partners from foreign states and territories that carry out unfriendly actions against Russia,” the order said.

It will also look into payment terms in roubles and other national currencies with friendly countries—which would include China and India, although they were not named.

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EU Chief Seeks Unanimity on Oil Ban Proposal

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is traveling to Hungary in a bid to secure unanimity on the EU’s executive arm’s proposal to ban oil imports from Russia.

A spokesman for the European Commission said von der Leyen will meet with Hungary’s Prime minister Viktor Orban on Monday to discuss “issues related to European security of energy supply.”

Hungary has blocked progress in discussions to adopt the sixth EU package of sanctions targeting Russia for its war in Ukraine, and ambassadors from the 27 EU countries have so far failed to agree on the details of the new round of measures.

Von der Leyen has proposed having EU member nations phase out imports of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year.

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European Commission Aims to Deliver First Opinion on Ukraine’s Bid to Become an EU Member in June

The European Commission will aim to deliver its first opinion in June on Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the European Union.

The 27 EU nations have been fully united in backing Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion, adopting unprecedented economic sanctions against Moscow since the start of the war in February. But leaders are divided on how fast Brussels could move to accept Ukraine as a member.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a message on Twitter that she discussed Monday with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy “EU support and Ukraine’s European pathway. Looking forward to receiving the answers to the EU membership questionnaire.”

For now, Ukraine has an “Association Agreement” with the EU, which includes a far-reaching free trade pact and helps to modernize Ukraine’s economy.

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Russian Ambassador Doused in Red by Anti-War Protesters in Poland

Russia’s ambassador to Poland was doused in a red substance on Monday by people protesting against the war in Ukraine as he went to lay flowers at the Soviet Military Cemetery in Warsaw to mark the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.

The war in Ukraine has cast a shadow over this year’s Victory Day, when Moscow honors the 27 million Soviet citizens who lost their lives in World War II. Poland, a strong supporter of Ukraine in its resistance to Russia’s recent invasion, opposed any large-scale commemoration taking place.

Video footage posted on Twitter showed the protesters, some with Ukrainian flags, surrounding the Russian delegation and chanting “fascists” before Ambassador Sergey Andreev was doused in the red substance.

Andreev told reporters he and his team were not seriously hurt in the incident, TASS news agency reported.

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Ukraine Says Russian Tanks and Artillery Pound Mariupol Steel Plant

Russian forces on Monday used tanks and artillery in “storming operations” at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol where the city’s last defenders are holed up, Ukraine’s defense ministry said.

Russia has declared victory in Mariupol, a strategic city on the Sea of Azov, but the sprawling steelworks remains in the hands of Ukrainian fighters.

Defence Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk gave few details and it was not clear whether Russian forces had launched a new operation at Azovstal.

“The enemy continues to blockade our units in the area of the Azovstal factory, and is conducting storming operations with the support of tank and artillery fire,” he told an online briefing.

Raising the prospect of Russia stepping up its assault on the steelworks further, he said: “The possibility of a renewal of its bombardment from Tu-22 M3 bombers is not excluded.”

Russia has previously denied assertions by Ukrainian officials that it has tried to storm the steelworks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on April 21 that it was not necessary to storm the steelworks but called for Russian forces to blockade the area “so not even a fly can get through.” Ukrainian officials said days later that Russia had started an assault on Azovstal.

Ukraine has said all women, children and elderly civilians that were also in Azovstal have now left. Russia has said the evacuation of civilians from the plant is complete.

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Russia Marks WWII Victory

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday marked the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two by telling his armed forces they were fighting for their country. But he did not say how much longer their invasion of Ukraine, now in its 11th week, would last or how it would end.

He said the campaign in Ukraine was a timely and necessary move to ward off what he described as “an absolutely unacceptable threat just next to our borders.”

“The danger was rising,” he said, adding that “Russia has preemptively repulsed an aggression” in what he described as a “forced, timely and the only correct decision by a sovereign, powerful and independent country.”

The Russian leader again criticized the West for failing to heed Russian demands for security guarantees and a rollback to NATO’s expansion, arguing that it left Moscow no other choice but to launch an action in Ukraine.

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Zelenskyy: Ukraine to Soon Have Victory Day

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy released a video address to the war-ravaged nation on Monday, marking the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, and promising that Ukraine will soon have “two Victory Days.”

“We will never forget what our ancestors did in World War II. Where more than 8 million Ukrainians died. And every fifth Ukrainian didn’t return home. In total, the war claimed at least 50 million lives,” Zelenskyy said. “We don’t say ‘we can repeat.’”

Zelenskyy stressed that “soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine.” “And someone will not have even one left. We won then, we will win now, too,″ he said, in reference to Russia’s war against Ukraine.

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Russia: Talks With Ukraine Continue but Not Ready for In-Person Meeting

Russian chief negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said on Monday that peace talks with Ukraine had not stopped and were being held remotely, according to the Interfax news agency.

Moscow has accused Kyiv of stalling the talks and using reports of atrocities committed by Russian troops in Ukraine to undermine negotiations. Russia denies targeting civilians in what it calls its “special military operation.”

Asked when in-person talks might be held with Ukrainian negotiators, Medinsky said: “We need more specifics on hand in order to meet in person.”

Ukraine and Russia have not held face-to-face peace talks since March 29, though they have met by video link.

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Japan Will Slowly Phase Out Russian Oil Imports in Unity With G7’s Effort

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says Japan will slowly phase out Russian oil imports in unity with the Group of Seven’s effort against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Leaders from the G-7 countries met online Sunday and announced their commitment to ban or phase out Russian oil imports in their latest effort to pressure Moscow into ending its aggression on Ukraine.

“It’s an extremely difficult decision for a country that mostly relies on energy imports, including oil,” Kishida told reporters Monday. “But G-7 unity is most important right now.”

Kishida said it will be a gradual and slow process of phasing out Russian oil imports and that details and timeline will be decided later as the process requires securing alternative energy sources.

About 4 percent of Japanese oil imports come from Russia. Japan has also announced phasing out Russian coal imports.

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Ukraine Troops Retreat From Popasna, Luhansk Governor Confirms

Ukrainian troops retreated from the eastern Ukrainian city of Popasna, the governor of Luhansk region said on Sunday, confirming previous reports that it had been taken.

The head of Russia’s republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, had said on Sunday his troops had taken control of most of Popasna.

Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Gaidai told Ukraine television that Ukrainian troops had retreated to take up more fortified positions, adding, “Everything was destroyed there.”

Russian forces launched a new offensive push in April along most of Ukraine’s eastern flank, with some of the most intense attacks and shelling taking place recently around Popasna in the Luhansk region.

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G-7 Leaders Vow to Cut Russian Oil Imports

Leaders from the Group of Seven (G-7) developed democracies pledged Sunday to phase out or ban the import of Russian oil, as they met with Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, for online talks to stress their support and to display unity among Western allies on Victory in Europe Day, which marks Nazi Germany’s surrender in 1945.

Cutting out Russian oil supplies “will hit hard at the main artery of [President Vladimir] Putin’s economy and deny him the revenue he needs to fund his war,” the G-7 countries—the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and Japan—said in a statement.

“We will ensure that we do so in a timely and orderly fashion, and in ways that provide time for the world to secure alternative supplies,” they added.

Casting a look back at World War II, the leaders stressed unity in their resolve that Putin must not win.

“We owe it to the memory of all those who fought for freedom in the Second World War, to continue fighting for it today, for the people of Ukraine, Europe, and the global community,” they said.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s call with the G-7 leaders and Zelenskyy lasted about an hour.

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Evacuees From Azovstal Plant Arrive in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia

A convoy of buses carrying evacuees from southeastern Ukraine, including some 40 civilians who had been holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in besieged Mariupol, arrived on Sunday in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, a U.N. official said.

Osnat Lubrani, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, said eight buses had arrived in the city. About 40 of the 174 evacuees on board had been rescued from the steel plant.

Lubrani said in a statement that the evacuations brought the number of people evacuated from the area in the past 10 days to more than 600.

“Our work, however, is not yet done,” she said in the statement. “The U.N. is aware that scores of people who wanted to join the evacuation convoys over the last days were unable to do so.

“We will continue our engagement with both parties to the conflict to make sure that those who want to leave have the guarantees to do so safely and in the direction of their choice.”

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.