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Biden open to ‘significant’ concessions on border security in return for Ukraine aid

Mr Zelensky pays his respects in front of the Wall of Remembrance of the Fallen for Ukraine in Kyiv
Mr Zelensky pays his respects in front of the Wall of Remembrance of the Fallen for Ukraine in Kyiv - AFP via Getty Images

Joe Biden pleaded with Republicans on Wednesday for a fresh infusion of military aid for Ukraine, warning that a victory for Russia would leave Putin in position to attack Nato allies and could draw US troops into a war.

The US president spoke as the White House planned to announce $175 million in additional Ukraine aid from its dwindling supply of money for Kyiv. He signalled a willingness to make significant changes to US migration policy along the border with Mexico to try to draw Republican support.

“If Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there,” Mr Biden said. Putin will attack a Nato ally, he predicted, and then “we’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today: American troops fighting Russian troops”.

The US president’s appeal came after the Senate blocked an emergency aid package that included more than $60 billion in new military support for Kyiv.

Congress has for months been split over sending more cash to Ukraine, with hard-line Republicans demanding an overhaul of immigration policy along the border with Mexico in exchange for their support.

Efforts to secure a funding deal were placed in an effective logjam on Wednesday, after Republicans in the upper house blocked a bill to provide aid to Ukraine and Israel over a lack of border provisions.

Senators voted 49-51 and therefore failed to reach the 60-vote threshold that would allow the proposal to come up for consideration.

The vote was along party lines, with every Senate Republican voting “no” along with Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who generally votes with Democrats but had expressed concerns about funding Israel’s “current inhumane military strategy” against Palestinians.

In an indication that Democrats intend to return to the matter promptly, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer flipped his vote to “no” so he could bring the bill up again in the future.

Speaking from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, Mr Biden accused “extreme Republicans” of “playing chicken with our national security, [and] holding Ukraine’s funding hostage to their extreme partisan border policies”.

He accused them of being willing to “literally kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield” and “give Russian president Vladimir Putin the greatest gift he could hope for”.

House and Senate Republicans are backing renewed construction of a border wall, former president Donald Trump’s signature goal, and a revival of a controversial policy under which asylum seekers must remain in Mexico while their immigration case is heard.

Mr Biden said on Wednesday he was willing to make “significant” compromises on the border issue, admitting the system was “broken” and in need of fixing, but could not meet their every demand.

He said Democrats had put a “bipartisan compromise on the table” which had been rejected.

“This has to be a negotiation,” he said. “Republicans think they get everything they want, without any bipartisan compromise. That’s not the answer.”

Mr Biden has asked Congress for nearly $106 billion to fund the wars in Ukraine, Israel and other security needs.

He said “petty, partisan, angry politics can’t get in the way of our responsibility”, before warning that if Putin enters Nato territory it could result in “American troops fighting Russian troops”.

The debate on supplemental Ukraine funding descended into a shouting match at the US Capitol on Tuesday, prompting several Republicans to walk out of a classified briefing.

Mr Romney was one of a number of Republicans who left the meeting early
Mr Romney was one of a number of Republicans who left the meeting early - MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, had been due to brief US senators on the war effort but was forced to cancel due to a “last-minute” hiccup, according to Chuck Schumer, the Democrat Senate majority leader.

Mr Schumer had accused Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of “hijacking” the meeting to question the administration about the border. He said some “disrespectful” lawmakers resorted to “screaming”.

Mitt Romney, a senator for Utah and one of a number of lawmakers who walked out of the meeting, said: “Republicans are saying that there’s support for Ukraine, but there has to be security of our border.”

“What I saw inside that briefing looked like an exercise in political theatre,” said Democrat senator Chris Murphy, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee. He warned that “Kyiv will be a Russian city” if Congress does not act.

Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, is currently in Washington DC to hold talks with congressional leaders and White House chiefs over Ukraine and Israel.

$175m donated to Ukrainian military

It comes as the Department of Defence announced a $175 million security assistance package for Ukraine from “the limited resources that remain available”.

The package includes additional air defence capabilities, artillery ammunition, anti-tank weapons, and other equipment.

Mr Zelensky told G7 leaders on Wednesday that Russia had ramped up pressure on the front lines and warned Moscow was counting on Western unity to “collapse” next year.

The virtual G7 meeting, attended by Mr Biden and Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, comes amid fears Western support for Ukraine could wane as it makes limited progress on the battlefield.

“Russia hopes only for one thing – that next year the free world’s consolidation will collapse,” Mr Zelensky said, warning Moscow had “significantly increased pressure on the front”.

Despite a Ukrainian counteroffensive that has employed billions of dollars’ worth of Western weapons, the front lines in the conflict have barely shifted in more than a year.

But Russian attacks have intensified in recent weeks, including around the strategically important eastern town of Avdiivka.

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