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Top US officials make case for Ukraine aid

WASHINGTON: The US secretaries of state and defence urged Congress on Tuesday (Oct 31) to sustain support for Ukraine and warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to use the Israel-Hamas war to reduce Western support for Kyiv.

President Joe Biden has combined military aid for Ukraine and Israel in a proposed US$106 billion package, but a significant number of Republicans in Congress – among whom support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion is faltering – are opposed to linking the two.

“I can guarantee you that without our support, Putin will be successful,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a Senate hearing on the supplemental funding request.

“If we pull the rug out from under them now, Putin will only get stronger and he will be successful in doing what he wants to do in acquiring his neighbour’s sovereign territory,” he said.

Washington is by far the biggest donor of military aid to Ukraine, committing some US$43.9 billion since Russian forces invaded in February 2022 – assistance that has helped Kyiv regain ground seized by Moscow.

But Republican opposition has put future assistance for Kyiv in doubt, and the US government has had to rely on previously authorised aid in the absence of new funding from Congress.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the same hearing that a halt to US assistance for Ukraine could encourage other countries to follow suit.

“This is an instance where we’ve seen very significant burden-sharing that would almost certainly go away if we go away,” he said.

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PROTESTS DURING HEARING

“The message it would send … to each and every one of these countries is that the United States is abandoning ship – well, we may as well do, too.”

Blinken said Putin is meanwhile “trying to take advantage of the Hamas attack on Israel in the hopes that it will distract us … and that it will result in the United States pulling back its resources” from Ukraine.

Hamas militants carried out a shock cross-border attack from Gaza this month that Israeli officials say killed more than 1,400 people, prompting Washington to rush military aid to Israel and sparking fears in Kyiv that backing for its war against invading Russian forces could suffer.

Israel’s retaliatory bombardment has killed more than 8,500 people, according to the Gaza health ministry, sparking widespread anger in the region and around the world.

The hearing was repeatedly interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters, some of whom cried out “Ceasefire now”, “Palestinians are not animals” and “Shame on you all” before being removed from the room.

Some two dozen people also raised hands covered in paint in a symbol of the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, while several wore messages of “Free Gaza” written on their arms and held signs demanding “No more $$$ 4 Israel”.

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