US Congress approves military aid package for Ukraine, missile strikes continue

The United States Congress has approved a $60.8bn military aid package for Ukraine, following months of delays and debates. The package, which was requested by US President Joe Biden last October, will be used to provide anti-missile defences to Ukrainian troops, strengthening their capabilities and morale. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude for the package and praised its potential to assist soldiers on the front lines and suffering cities.

The package is a significant boost to Ukraine's military capabilities, as it will provide Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) with a range of 300km, which puts virtually all of Crimea within Ukraine's striking range. This is a major strategic advantage, as Ukraine has been requesting ATACMS for over a year. The package will also be used to replenish US stocks already depleted from shipping weapons to Ukraine.

Russian reactions to the news were cynical and vitriolic. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov argued that the package is an attempt to provoke Ukraine into further hostilities and put guaranteed money in the pockets of the US. Deputy Head of the Russian National Security Council Dmitry Medvedev called it a "vote of joyful US bullshit" and expressed hope that the US would plunge into a civil war that would lead to the collapse of the "vile evil empire of the 21st century."

Russia's foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova claimed the aid package was an attempt to bolster Biden's chances of re-election and that the agony of Ukrainian civilians and Zelenskyy's inner circle would be prolonged. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia is not willing to engage in peace talks with Zelenskyy, and if talks were to take place, Russia would not agree to a ceasefire.

On April 16, independent reporters posted geolocated footage showing plumes of smoke rising from the Dzhankoy airfield in occupied Crimea. The following day, images were posted of destroyed S-400 air defence missile launchers. Ukrainian commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrskii posted nocturnal video of Ukrainian missiles striking the airbase, destroying four S-400 missile launchers, a missile control centre, three radars, and airspace surveillance equipment.

Ukraine has made a practice of striking Crimean military targets, aiming to make Crimea untenable for the Russian armed forces. The strategy is working, as Russia has withdrawn Sukhoi Su-34 and Sukhoi Su-35 aircraft from Crimea and moved them to Russian soil. Ukraine also struck Russian ships with naval surface drones, targeting their capabilities to provide cover for combat units. On Sunday, Ukraine's special forces revealed they had pooled resources to strike at refineries and fuel depots, causing widespread destruction to Russian infrastructure.

Recently, Ukraine has been trying to target Russian long-range capabilities. On Friday, Ukraine shot down a Russian long-range Tupolev Tu-22 bomber, as it returned to base after releasing X-22 missiles against Ukraine. The plane crashed in the Stavropol region of Russia. Ukraine's military intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, confirmed the bomber was downed at a range of 306km. On the same day, Ukraine shot down two X-22 missiles for the first time.

The US Congress also voted to seize $8bn in Russian immobilised assets held in US banks and send them to Ukraine. However, G7 leaders failed to agree on how to utilise an estimated $300bn in Russian immobilised assets held in Ukraine-friendly countries.

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