US Senate passes Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan bill; Biden to sign on Wednesday

US president says new weapons shipment could be on its way to Ukraine as soon as this week.

Ukraine activists wave the country's flag outside the US Capitol
Activists wave Ukrainian flags outside the US Capitol [Mandel Ngan/AFP]

The United States Senate has passed a long-delayed multibillion-dollar aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, paving the way for new weapons deliveries to Kyiv as soon as this week.

The Democratic-controlled Senate passed the measure, held up for months by right-wing Republicans and part of a four-bill package, by 79 votes to 18 late on Tuesday night in the US.

“I will sign this bill into law and address the American people as soon as it reaches my desk tomorrow so we can begin sending weapons and equipment to Ukraine this week,” President Joe Biden said in a statement shortly afterwards.

Much of the assistance in the $95bn package is for Ukraine, which has struggled to fend off Russian forces along its 1,000km (600-mile) front line as weapons have dwindled.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed its final passage.

“Ukraine’s long-range capabilities, artillery, and air defence are critical tools for restoring just peace sooner,” he wrote on social media, saying the move reinforced “America’s role as a beacon of democracy and leader of the free world”.

The bill is worth $61bn to Ukraine but also provides $26bn for Israel, as well as humanitarian assistance in Gaza, Sudan and Haiti, as well as more than $8bn in military support for Taiwan, the democratic island China claims as its own.

Taipei has said it will discuss with the US how to use the funding. Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, which has not ruled out the use of force to take control of the island, said it “resolutely opposes” the inclusion of what it called “Taiwan-related content” in the aid package.

Turning the corner

Additional funding for Ukraine has been the subject of months of acrimonious debate among lawmakers over how, or even whether, to help the country defend itself, with hardline Republicans linked to former President Donald Trump demanding concessions over the US’s southern border policy in exchange for their support.

A similar package passed the Senate in February but was stalled in the House of Representatives until Republican Speaker Mike Johnson, a Trump loyalist, had a sudden change of heart earlier this month, proposing to repackage the measure into four bills.

The new package, which also allows Biden to confiscate and sell Russian assets and provide the money to Kyiv to finance reconstruction, secured approval in the House on April 20, with 311 voting in favour and 112 against.

The Senate’s Democratic and Republican leaders said the vote signalled that Congress was back on track.

“This national security bill is one of the most important measures Congress has passed in a very long time to protect American security and the security of Western democracy,” Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters after the vote.

Senate Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican and a strong supporter of assistance for Ukraine, expressed regret about the delay.

“I think we’ve turned the corner on the isolationist movement,” McConnell said.

The Reuters and Associated Press news agencies reported on Monday that Biden’s administration was already preparing the first tranche of military assistance linked to the bill with a focus on weapons that could be put to immediate use on the battlefield.

It was not immediately clear how the money for Israel, which already receives billions of dollars in security assistance from the US every year, would affect the conflict in Gaza.

Aid supporters hope the humanitarian assistance will help Palestinians in the territory, which has been devastated by Israel’s bombardment and is facing famine.

At least 34,183 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict erupted in October after Hamas launched an unprecedented assault on Israel, killing more than 1,100 people and taking dozens more captive.

The package of measures also included legislation to ban the popular video-sharing app TikTok unless it divests from its Chinese parent company.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies