US President Joe Biden on Saturday signed a bill that provides nearly $40 billion of additional humanitarian and military aid for Ukraine, in a move that prioritizes assistance for Kiev over fight against the coronavirus in the world's worst-hit country.
The White House in a statement on Saturday said the mammoth package for Ukraine will include security, humanitarian, and economic assistance. Biden signed the bill while on his maiden trip to Asia, days after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass it.
The latest package brings the total US aid that Congress has approved for Ukraine this year to nearly $54 billion.
Ukraine has been at war with Russia since President Vladimir Putin declared a military operation in the neighboring country in late February, following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
At the time, Putin said one of the goals of what he called a “special military operation” was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.
Ever since, Washington has sent heavy weaponry to Ukraine and shared intelligence with the embattled government in Kiev, despite warnings from Moscow that the unfaltering Western support would indefinitely prolong the war.
Public opinion in the US is sharply divided over Washington's military assistance to Kiev, with many linking it to the government's delay in passing the $10 billion funding meant to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Biden's decision to make the Ukraine aid package his government's main priority has not gone down well with many Americans. The US president said without new funding for Ukraine, shipments of weapons and other aid would need to be halted in about 10 days.
The president had earlier urged Congress to take overdue action on much-needed funding for COVID treatments, vaccines, and tests, as part of the Ukraine Supplemental Bill.
However, he later said he has been “informed by Congressional leaders in both parties that such an addition would slow down action on the urgently needed Ukrainian aid – a view expressed strongly by several Congressional Republicans.”
“We cannot afford delay in this vital war effort. Hence, I am prepared to accept that these two measures move separately so that the Ukrainian aid bill can get to my desk right away," he said last week, much to the chagrin of people in his country.
Unnecessary COVID deaths feared if Congress fails to pass pandemic bill
Meanwhile, top American health officials have reiterated calls for Congress to pass funding for the fight against the pandemic. They have warned that failure to act now would result in unnecessary loss of life in the fall and winter.
COVID infections and hospitalizations are rising as more transmissible omicron subvariants sweep the United States.
Ashish Jha, the new White House COVID response coordinator, warned that the nation will not have enough money to provide vaccines for all Americans in the fall without money from Congress.
“We have to plan for a scenario where we don’t get any more resources from Congress. I think we would see a lot of unnecessary loss if that were to happen," Jha said during a White House update on the pandemic Wednesday.
“We know that the number of infections is actually substantially higher than that, hard to know exactly how many, but we know that a lot of people are getting diagnosed using home tests,” he added.
The United States is the worst-hit country in the world and has surpassed one million COVID-19 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.