The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a new $40 billion aid package for Ukraine as the country combats Russia’s invasion. The House of Representatives voted in favor of the package last week.
U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the measure promptly.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his daily address Thursday that the Senate passage of the aid package was “a manifestation of strong leadership and a necessary contribution to our common defense of freedom.”
In another development Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration is authorizing $100 million more in military aid to Ukraine. The package of aid includes 18 more howitzers and 18 vehicles to move them, and three more anti-artillery radars, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Thursday hundreds more Ukrainian soldiers had surrendered at the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, bringing the total this week to 1,730.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement Thursday it was registering fighters who left Azovstal, an operation that began Tuesday.
“The ICRC is not transporting POWs to the places where they are held,” the organization said.
“The registration process that the ICRC facilitated involves the individual filling out a form with personal details like name, date of birth and closest relative. This information allows the ICRC to track those who have been captured and help them keep in touch with their families,” it said.
Ukrainian officials have not confirmed the Russian account of the number of Ukrainian fighters who have surrendered at the last holdout in Mariupol. Ukraine has expressed hopes that the soldiers can be part of a prisoner swap with Russia, while Russia’s main investigative body said it intends to interrogate them and determine if any were involved in crimes against civilians.
The capture of Mariupol, a prewar city of 430,000 people along the north coast of the Sea of Azov, would be Moscow’s biggest success in its nearly three-month offensive against Ukraine.
With Russian forces focusing efforts on the eastern Donbas region, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who was involved in several rounds of talks with Russia, said Thursday that agreeing to a cease-fire with Russia “is impossible without total Russian troop withdrawal."
“Until Russia is ready to fully liberate occupied territories, our negotiating team is weapons, sanctions and money,” Podolyak said in a Twitter post.
A senior U.S. Defense Department official said Thursday there have been no major gains by either Russia or Ukraine in the previous day, although Ukrainian forces “continue to claw back territory” north and northeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-biggest city.
The official did not dispute a British intelligence assessment that top Russian military commanders have been fired.
"We have seen indications where Russian commanders at various levels have been relieved of their duties,” the U.S. official said, adding that the U.S. had nothing to share about "senior, senior levels" of the Russian command.
Russian logistical and troop morale issues are continuing, the official said.
The Pentagon announced that the top U.S. military officer, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke by phone Thursday with Russia's Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov, the first conversation between the two since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.
"The military leaders discussed several security-related issues of concern and agreed to keep the lines of communication open," a Milley spokesperson said. "In accordance with past practice, the specific details of their conversation will be kept private."
Russia’s RIA news agency said the two military leaders discussed issues of "mutual interest," including Ukraine.
Also Thursday, Ukraine welcomed the confirmation of a new U.S. ambassador. The U.S. Senate gave its approval to Bridget Brink, a veteran foreign service officer who had been the U.S. ambassador to Slovakia.
The ambassadorial post in Ukraine had been vacant since 2019 when then-President Donald Trump forced out Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Brink’s confirmation came as the United States also resumed operations at its embassy in Kyiv, joining other nations that have returned since Russian forces withdrew from the area around the Ukrainian capital.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.