Image Source : REUTERS Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden in Paris.

Paris: US President Joe Biden on Friday publicly apologised to his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the months-long holdup in providing military assistance from the Congress that helped Russia make gains on the battlefield during the over two-year-long conflict. Biden assured Zelenskyy that the United States stands with Ukraine in this critical moment when Kyiv’s forces are struggling to fend off Russia’s better equipped troops.

Speaking in Paris, where Biden and Zelenskyy both attended ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings during World War II, the US President said, “You continue to fight in a way that is just remarkable. It’s remarkable. And we’re not going to walk away from you. I apologize for those weeks of not knowing what’s going on in terms of funding. And because we had trouble getting the bill that we had to pass… had the money in it, from some of our very conservative members who were holding it up. But we got it done finally. Since then, including today, I’ve announced six packages of significant funding.”

The US has also announced a new $225 military package for Ukraine, according to officials and confirmed by Biden himself in Paris. The package includes munitions for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, as well as mortar systems and an array of artillery rounds. Under a new US directive, Ukraine can use such weapons to strike across the border into Russia if forces there are attacking or preparing to attack.

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“It’s very important that you stay with us, this bipartisan support with the Congress, it’s very important that in this unity, the United States of America, all American people stay with Ukraine like it was during World War Two, how the United States helped to save human lives, to save Europe. And we count on your continued support in standing with us, shoulder to shoulder. Thank you so much. And this big package which been signed and supported, and voted. And it’s very important. It’s so necessary for these, for the feeling of our people that we are not alone. We are with you, with our strategic partner,” Biden further told Zelenskyy in Paris.

The US is Ukraine’s biggest supplier of wartime support as Kyiv seeks to counter a renewed offensive by Russia in eastern parts of the country. The offensive is seeking to exploit Kyiv’s shortages of ammunition and troops along the roughly 1,000-kilometre (620-mile) front line. The shortfall in weaponry came as the US military aid was held up in the Congress, where Republicans opposed military assistance to Ukraine and said the money should be used to resolve Washington’s domestic issues like the border crisis.

The slow pace of delivery of pledged Western weaponry has long frustrated Zelenskyy, as has Biden’s hesitation over supplying more hardware for fear of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin. That has caused tension in their relationship and allowed Russian troops to gain a significant advantage in the battlefield.

France to provide Mirage 2000 fighters to Ukraine

Easing their stance amid Russia’s most recent onslaught and with Ukraine’s army reeling, some NATO allies including the US said last week they would allow Ukraine to use weapons they deliver to Kyiv to carry out limited attacks inside Russia. French President Emmanuel Macron said France plans to provide Mirage 2000 warplanes to Ukraine to counter Russian attacks.

“Your combat aviation, brilliant fighter jets under Ukrainian pilots’ command will prove that Europe is stronger, stronger than evil which dared to threaten it,” Zelenskyy told French lawmakers. “Now, just like 80 years ago, we can prove it — the power of our unity, the power of our alliance, the power of our shared ideals.”

The Mirage 2000 is a multi-role, single-engine jet fighter, although it is unclear how the warplanes could help Ukraine militarily. Ukraine’s military leaders openly admit that the battlefield situation on the eastern front has deteriorated. Two years of war have sapped Ukraine’s ammunition and manpower, while the country’s failed counter-offensive last year sank morale.

Amid signs of declining enthusiasm to support Ukraine, Biden on Thursday pledged “we will not walk away” from Ukraine, drawing a direct line from the fight to liberate Europe from Nazi domination to today’s war against Russian aggression. French President Emmanuel Macron also made a link with D-Day, promising Europe would not weaken in its support.

(with inputs from agencies)

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