Biden asks Congress to approve another $20bn in Ukraine military aid

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<p><figcaption class=Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP

Joe Biden has asked Congress to approve another $20bn in military aid to Ukraine, significantly ramping up the US contribution to the battle against Russian occupation.

Biden will also ask for $8.5bn in economic aid to Kyiv and $3bn in humanitarian relief, as well as funds to help increase US production of food crops and strategic minerals to offset the impact of the war in Ukraine on global supplies.

The total request for supplemental spending comes to $33bn. The last supplemental request approved by Congress in March was $13.6bn. Russia has warned that increased western weapons supplies to Ukraine would endanger European security.

In a letter to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, Biden said: “What I want to make clear to the Congress and the American people is this: the cost of failing to stand up to violent aggression in Europe has always been higher than the cost of standing firm against such attacks.”

The new military assistance the congressional funding will finance will include.

  • More artillery and armored vehicles, as well as anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft systems.

  • Help to build up Ukraine’s cyber warfare capabilities.

  • More intelligence sharing.

  • Support to increase Ukraine’s ability to produce munitions and strategic minerals.

  • Assistance in clearing landmines and other explosives and in Ukraine’s defense against chemical, biological and dirty bomb attacks.

  • Assistance to clear landmines, improvised explosive devices and other explosives and for defending against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials.

  • A further buildup in the US military presence on Nato’s eastern flank.

The package of proposals the administration is sending to Congress also includes measures to strengthen the hand of the justice department in pursuing Kremlin-aligned oligarchs.

Biden said the measures would allow for “expanded and expedited measures for investigating, prosecuting, and forfeiting assets of Russian oligarchs to be used for the benefit of Ukraine”.

Biden made his announcement as the UN secretary general, António Guterres, is visiting Ukraine, where he described the war as “an absurdity” in the 21st century.

Related: UN secretary general describes war in Ukraine as ‘absurdity’ in 21st century

Guterres was touring Borodianka on Thursday, where Russian forces are accused of massacring civilians before their withdrawal, on his first visit to Ukraine since the start of the invasion on 24 February, before talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“I imagine my family in one of those houses that is now destroyed secretary and black,” said the UN general, who has been criticizing for visiting Ukraine only after first meeting Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, who rebuffed his offer to help evacuate the devastated southern port city of Mariupol.

“I see my granddaughters running away in panic, part of the family eventually killed,” Guterres said. “The war is an absurdity in the 21st century. The war is evil. There is no way a war can be acceptable in the 21st century.”

In nearby Bucha, where dozens of civilian bodies, some with their hands tied, were discovered this month, Guterres backed an investigation by the International Criminal Court into possible war crimes in Ukraine. “I appeal to the Russian Federation to accept, to cooperate with the ICC,” he said.

The Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov warned on Thursday that an increased western supply of heavy weapons to Kyiv – as urged by the British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, on Wednesday – would endanger European security.

“The tendency to pump weapons, including heavy weapons, into Ukraine, these are the actions that threaten the security of the continent, provoke instability,” Peskov said in response to Truss’s call for Kyiv’s allies to “ramp up” military production, including tanks and planes, to help Ukraine.

Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry, also warned the west on Thursday to stop encouraging Ukraine to strike at targets inside Russian territory, saying it was “trying our patience.” Multiple targets, including fuel and ammunition depots, have been hit in Russian provinces bordering Ukraine in recent days.

“Such aggression against Russia cannot remain without an answer,” Zakharova said. “We would like Kyiv and western capitals to take seriously the statement that further provocation prompting Ukraine to strike against Russian facilities will be met with a harsh response from Russia.”

Zakharova added that western envoys in Ukraine would not be immune from Russian retaliatory attacks, saying “advisers from western countries” in Ukraine “will not necessarily be a problem for Russia’s response measures”.

The senior Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak defended Ukraine’s right to strike inside Russian, saying: “Ukraine will defend itself in any way, including strikes on the warehouses and bases of the killers in Russia. The world recognises this right.”

Britain’s defence secretary, Ben Wallace, on Thursday also repeated the UK’s assertion that it was “legitimate under international law” for Ukrainian forces to target Russian logistics infrastructure, but he said such attacks were unlikely to use British weapons.

He also denied Nato was locked in a “proxy war” with Russia, but said the west would provide increased support to Ukraine if the Russian attacks continued. “Sometimes that will include planes and tanks,” he said, adding that he expected Putin, “having failed in nearly all his objectives” to dig in “like a cancerous growth.”

The US on Thursday accused Russia of planning fake independence votes to justify its conquest of Ukrainian territory, saying the Kremlin might attempt “sham referenda” in southern and eastern areas it had captured using “a well-worn playbook that steals from history’s darkest chapters” and must “never be recognised as legitimate”.

As Russia’s assault on Ukraine, now in its 10th week, continues to radically reshape security and economic ties across Europe, Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said non-aligned Finland and Sweden would be welcome in the alliance.

“It is, of course, for Finland and Sweden to decide whether they would like to apply for membership in Nato or not,” Stoltenberg said on Thursday. “But if they decide to apply, Finland and Sweden will be welcomed with open arms.”

Nordic media said this week the two countries, which are deliberating the question of Nato membership, had agreed to submit simultaneous applications to the US-led alliance in mid-May. Moscow has said that would force it to bolster its defences in the Baltic, including with nuclear weapons, to “restore balance”.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said nearly 5.4 million Ukrainians had fled their country since Russia invaded, with more than 55,000 leaving in the past 24 hours. While the outflow has slowed significantly since March, it forecast that the conflict in Ukraine could produce 8.3 million refugees by the end of the year.

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