Live updates | Biden signs Ukraine ‘lend-lease’ program bill

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A military truck transports a platform with Ukrainian self-propelled artillery mount in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, May 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

WASHINGTON — Washington sought to portray a united front against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Monday as President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan measure to reboot the World War II-era “lend-lease” program that helped defeat Nazi Germany to bolster Kyiv and Eastern European allies.

The new legislation is largely symbolic, but comes as Congress is poised to unleash more resources of $33 billion or more to fight the war. It all serves as a rejoinder to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has seized on V-E day, the anniversary of Germany’s unconditional surrender and Russia’s biggest patriotic holiday, to rally his people behind the invasion.

Before signing the bill, Biden said that “Putin’s war” was “once more bringing wanton destruction of Europe,” drawing reference to the significance of the day.

Flanked by two Democratic lawmakers and one Republican, Biden signed the bill, which had sailed through the Senate last month with unanimous agreement, not even the need for a formal roll call vote. It passed overwhelmingly in the House, drawing opposition from just 10 Republicans.

“It really matters,” Biden said of the bipartisan support for Ukraine. “It matters.”

Despite their differences over Biden’s approach and perceived missteps in confronting Russia, when it comes to Ukraine the members of the House and Senate have held together in a rare bipartisan fashion. Other measures, including calls to investigate Putin for war crimes, have also gained widespread support.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:

— No end in sight for Ukraine war as Putin hails Victory Day

— Russian ambassador to Poland hit with red paint

— Russia marks WWII victory overshadowed by Ukraine

— More than 60 feared dead in bombing of Ukrainian school

Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

WASHINGTON — Lithuania’s top diplomat said Monday that removing Russian President Vladimir Putin from power is the only way to protect the West and its allies from future threats from Moscow, urging an even tougher stance than the U.S. and many NATO allies have been willing to pursue since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In an interview with The Associated Press in Washington, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Putin’s annual Victory Day speech was “underwhelming” and that the “gloomy faces” of generals and others were signs of failing in the Ukraine war. Yet, he said a wounded Putin may be even more dangerous and that the only way to remove the threat is to remove him.

“From our standpoint, up until the point the current regime is not in power, the countries surrounding it will be, to some extent, in danger. Not just Putin but the whole regime because, you know, one might change Putin and might change his inner circle but another Putin might rise into his place,” Landsbergis said.

“And so as long as a regime that intends to wage wars outside Russian territory is in place, the countries surrounding it are in danger,” he said. “And, if one thing was proven to those who doubted it after 2008 in Georgia in 2014 when the first war in Ukraine started, it is that Russia is an aggressive country. That’s very clear.”

Lithuania is one of the three Baltic states that among NATO allies are particularly concerned about possible Russian designs on forcefully returning them to Moscow’s rule. Lithuanian officials, including Landsbergis have been especially outspoken about their fears but his overt calls for regime change go beyond what most NATO allies have been willing to express.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — The first telephone call Jill Biden made from her black SUV after an unannounced meeting with her Ukrainian counterpart inside the embattled country was to her husband, President Joe Biden.

Biden and Olena Zelenska, who had not been seen in public since President Vladimir Putin sent Russia’s military into her country nearly 11 weeks ago, had just spent about two hours together at a school in Uzhhorod in western Ukraine.

With her visit to the Ukraine war zone, the U.S. first lady was able to act as a second pair of eyes and ears for the president, who so far has been unable to visit the country himself.

“Sometimes the first lady is able to do things and get into places where the president can’t,” said Myra Gutin, author of “The President’s Partner: The First Lady in the Twentieth Century.”

Jill Biden wrapped up her four-day trip to Eastern Europe on Monday after meeting in Bratislava with Zuzana Caputova, Slovakia’s first female president. Her trip over the border on Sunday to meet with Zelenska and refugees from elsewhere in Ukraine was a highpoint of the visit.

Seated across from Caputova, Jill Biden said she told her husband in their phone call “just how much I saw the need to support the people of Ukraine” and about “the horrors and the brutality that the people I had met had experienced.”

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BERLIN — The leaders of Germany and France welcomed the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t announce any steps to expand the war in Ukraine, including to other countries, in his speech marking the end of World War II.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters in Berlin that it important there had been no escalation, “at least as far as the rhetoric is concerned” in Putin’s Victory Day speech. “What actually happens in Ukraine is something we’ll see in the next days and weeks.”

His comments were echoed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who added that the goal of diplomatic efforts remains a cease-fire in Ukraine.

“In effect, today was marked by no verbal escalation nor a geographic escalation nor an escalation in the use of arms” he said. “Is this sufficient for us? No.”

“We will remain concentrated on our only goal, do all to get a cease-fire and help Ukraine to negotiate under the terms it decides for itself, because we are on the side of sovereignty and Ukrainian territorial integrity,” Macron said. “No more, no less.”

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BUCHAREST, Romania — U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said during an official visit to non-NATO member Moldova on Monday that the consequences of Russia’s war against Ukraine escalating are “too frightening to contemplate.”

Guterres, who arrived in Moldova’s capital Chisinau on Monday, said in a joint press conference with Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita, that the impact of Russia’s war in neighboring Ukraine “is profound and far-reaching.”

The U.N. chief’s visit to Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries, which has a population of about 2.6 million people, follows a series of unsettling incidents that have rocked Moldova’s pro-Russia breakaway region of Transnistria, which has put officials in Chisinau on high alert.

In late April, three men launched grenades at the region’s state security office, and two large broadcast antennas were downed a day later. On Friday, Police in Transnistria said explosive devices were dropped from a drone leaving 1-meter-deep craters near a village.

“I am deeply concerned about the continuation and possible spread of the war Russia is waging in Ukraine,” Guterres said, adding that Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity “must not be threatened or undermined.”

Transnistria, a small strip of land with a population of about 470,000, has been under the control of separatist authorities since a 1992 war with Moldova. Russia bases about 1,500 troops in the breakaway region, ostensibly as peacekeepers. No casualties were reported in the incidents.

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WASHINGTON — The United States is suspending 25% import taxes on Ukraine’s steel in a show of support for the country’s beleaguered economy during the Russian invasion.

The Commerce Department said Monday that it would withdraw the tariffs for a year. Ukraine accounts for only about 1% of U.S. steel exports.

Some of the country’s largest steel communities have been among those hardest hit during the war, including the Mariupol mill that’s the only part of the strategically important port city not under Russian control.

“We can’t just admire the fortitude and spirit of the Ukrainian people — we need to have their backs and support one of the most important industries to Ukraine’s economic well-being,’’ Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo said. “For steel mills to continue as an economic lifeline for the people of Ukraine, they must be able to export their steel.’’

The steel levies were imposed in 2018 by the Trump administration, which deployed a little-used provision in U.S. trade law to call foreign steel a threat to American national security. The move outraged U.S. allies, and critics said they did little address the real cause of stress for U.S. steel producers: massive overproduction by the Chinese, whose steel shipments to the U.S. are already limited by other trade barriers.

The Biden administration has removed most of the tariffs on steel from the European Union, the United Kingdom and Japan, allowing their metals to come in duty-free up to a quota. No such quota applies to the Ukrainian imports in the move announced Monday.

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WARSAW, Poland — Polish officials say the country is ready to increase its energy assistance to neighboring Ukraine and provide steady deliveries.

Poland’s government ministers made the declaration Monday during a Polish-Ukrainian Energy Forum attended also by other countries and by the International Energy Agency. Climate and Environment minister, Anna Moskwa, said a round-the clock effort is being set in motion to “ensure energy security to Ukraine.”

Poland has been supplying Ukraine with some energy and fuels ever since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. The level of the support is to be increased.

Ukraine’s first deputy minister for the economy, Yulia Sviridenko, said the country urgently needs diesel fuel and gasoline because Russia’s invading troops are destroying its fuels infrastructure, including a refinery.

Poland is in the process of cutting its dependence on Russian energy sources and increasing deliveries from other countries.

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BRUSSELS — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is traveling to Hungary in a bid to secure unanimity on the EU’s executive arm’s proposal to ban oil imports from Russia.

A spokesman for the European Commission said von der Leyen will meet with Hungary Prime minister Viktor Orban on Monday to discuss “issues related to European security of energy supply.”

Hungary has blocked progress in discussions to adopt the sixth EU package of sanctions targeting Russia for its war in Ukraine, and ambassadors from the 27 EU countries have so far failed to agree on the details of the new round of measures.

Von der Leyen has proposed having EU member nations phase out imports of crude oil within six months and refined products by the end of the year.

Hungary says it will not vote for the proposed sanctions, saying it would have the effect of an “atomic bomb” on its economy and would destroy its “stable energy supply.”

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ODESA, Ukraine — The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, has lamented that “silos full” of food for export is blocked in the Black Sea port of Odesa, which he visited on Monday.

The Ukrainian city has been the target of Russian missile attacks over recent days.

In a tweet, Michel said he was with Ukraine’s prime minister examining the war’s effect on the port.

“I saw silos full of grain, wheat and corn ready for export,” Michel wrote. “This badly needed food is stranded because of the Russian war and blockade of Black sea ports. Causing dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries. We need a global response.”

Ukraine is a global grain exporter, and U.N. officials have warned that failure for those products to ship will hurt food security in importing countries, especially poorer ones in Africa and elsewhere.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a statement said he spoke with Michel during the Odesa visit. “It is important to prevent a food crisis in the world caused by Russia’s aggressive actions,” Zelenskyy said. “Immediate measures must be taken to unlock Ukrainian ports for wheat exports.”

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ROME — The head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow patriarch has made a personal and faith-based appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin for safe passage to Ukrainian soldiers defending the besieged port city of Mariupol.

Metropolitan Onufry recalled in an open letter Monday that Putin’s own family survived the siege of Leningrad in the 1940s. He said Putin’s relatives experienced “what it is like to live in isolation from the great land, under constant bombardment, without food, water, medicine, when death can come at any moment from the impact of a heavy weapon, hunger or lack of medical care.”

He said the civilians and soldiers of Mariupol are in the same situation today, a reference to the Ukrainian troops still defending the Azovstal steel mill. He wrote: “We hope that you will Christianly agree to the extraction procedure for the Ukrainian garrison in Mariupol, and give the opportunity to surrounded civilians, police, border guards and the military to enter the territory controlled by Ukraine or the territory of third countries.”

Onufry’s church enjoys broad autonomy but is loyal to the Russian Orthodox Church and its patriarch, Kirill. It is separate from the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which split into an independent church in 2019.

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ROME — The Ukrainian embassy in Rome has been wrapped in a ribbon of European Union flags as a sign of EU solidarity with Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

European ambassadors posed with the Ukrainian ambassador in a ceremony Monday to mark Europe Day, which commemorates a key date in the founding of the EU.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Italy, Yaroslav Melnyk, urged the bloc to remain united for the sake of Ukraine and Europe.

The French ambassador in Rome, Christian Masset, called for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of Russian forces and EU unity to help the Ukrainian people.

The flag initiative was promoted by the pro-European association, Europa Now.

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BERLIN — The Russian ambassador in Berlin used a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the end of World War II to repeat Moscow’s claims that it is fighting against “Nazism” in Ukraine.

Sergey Nechaev told reporters Monday that Ukraine “will be de-nazified for sure.”

“It will succeed,” he said. “We need a peace without Nazism, in Ukraine and in Europe.”

The diplomat also cited a need for “good cooperation, of course, but at eye level, without ultimatums and without threats and without sanctions.”

The occasion was the 77th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat, traditionally celebrated by Russia on May 9.

A small group of people waved Russian and Soviet flags, despite a ban on doing so by Berlin police, imposed to prevent violence between pro-Russia and pro-Ukraine protesters.

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WARSAW, Poland — Protesters threw what appeared to be red paint, to symbolize blood, at the Russian ambassador as he arrived at a cemetery in Warsaw to pay respects to Red Army soldiers who died during World War II.

Ambassador Ambassador Sergey Andreev came to the Soviet soldiers cemetery to lay flowers. A group of activists opposed to Russia’s war in Ukraine were waiting for him.

The protesters carried Ukrainian flags, while some were dressed in white sheets smeared with a red color, symbolizing the Ukrainian victims of Russia’s war. Other men in the diplomat’s entourage were also seen splattered with what appeared to be red paint.

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BRUSSELS — The European Commission will aim to deliver a first opinion in June on Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the European Union.

The 27 EU nations have been fully united in backing Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion, adopting unprecedented economic sanctions against Moscow since the start of the war in February. But leaders are divided on how fast Brussels could move to accept Ukraine as a member.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said in a message on Twitter that she discussed Monday with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskyy “EU support and Ukraine’s European pathway. Looking forward to receiving the answers to the EU membership questionnaire.”

For now, Ukraine has an “Association Agreement” with the EU, which includes a far-reaching free trade pact and helps to modernize Ukraine’s economy.

The Ukrainian fast-track bid could take years, with unanimity among current members required to include a new member.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy released a video address to the war-ravaged nation on Monday, marking the defeat of the Nazi Germany in the World War II, and promising that Ukraine will soon have “two Victory Days.”

“We will never forget what our ancestors did in World War II. Where more than 8 million Ukrainians died. And every fifth Ukrainian didn’t return home. In total, the war claimed at least 50 million lives,” Zelenskyy said. “We don’t say ‘we can repeat.’”

Zelenskyy stressed that “soon there will be two Victory Days in Ukraine.” “And someone will not have even one left. We won then, we will win now, too,” he said, in reference to Russia’s war against Ukraine.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to cast Moscow’s military action in Ukraine as a forced response to Western policies.

Speaking Monday at a military parade marking the World War II victory over the Nazis, Putin drew parallels between the Red Army’s fighting against the Nazi troops and the Russian forces’ action in Ukraine.

He said the campaign in Ukraine was a timely and necessary move to ward off what he described as “an absolutely unacceptable threat just next to our borders.”

“The danger was rising” he said, adding that “Russia has preemptively repulsed an aggression” in what he described as a “forced, timely and the only correct decision by a sovereign, powerful and independent country.”

The Russian leader again scolded the West for failing to heed Russian demands for security guarantees and a rollback to NATO’s expansion, arguing that it left Moscow no other choice but to launch an action in Ukraine.

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BERLIN — The German government says Berlin’s iconic Brandenburg Gate is one of many prominent buildings across Europe that will be illuminated Monday in the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag.

Government spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters in Berlin that the decision to do so was taken some time ago and there was no link to a ban on flying Russian or Ukrainian flags near WWII memorials on May 8-9 imposed by police in the German capital. Police argued the ban was needed to prevent possible public unrest. Supporters of Ukraine and the country’s ambassador had strongly criticized that decision in light of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Buechner said projecting the Ukrainian flag onto the Brandenburg Gate was a “sign of solidarity” to show that the European Union is on the side of Ukraine.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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