Ukraine faces retreat without US aid, Zelensky says

By Mariya Knight and Chris Lau, CNN

CNN  — 

Ukrainian forces would have to cede further territory to Russia if US military aid does not arrive soon, President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned, in his latest appeal to Congress to pass a multibillion-dollar package.

President Joe Biden’s administration is struggling to push a $95 billion international aid package – which includes $60 billion for Ukraine – through the House of Representatives more than month since it was passed in the Senate.

Zelensky warned that the lack of aid was urgent, and could endanger Ukraine’s major cities.

“If there is no US support, it means that we have no air defense, no Patriot missiles, no jammers for electronic warfare, no 155-millimeter artillery rounds,” he told The Washington Post during a recent interview published Friday. “It means we will go back, retreat, step by step, in small steps.”

He said Kyiv would be forced to do less and prioritize resources, and the cut could have consequences.

“If you need 8,000 rounds a day to defend the front line, but you only have, for example, 2,000 rounds, you have to do less,” he explained, saying that the solution may entail shortening the front line.

“If it breaks, the Russians could go to the big cities.”

Much of Ukraine’s east has been under Russian military control since Moscow launched its invasion more than two years ago.

Last month, Kyiv announced its withdrawal from Avdiivka, one of the most fiercely contested towns on its eastern front in recent months.

While its strategic significance is limited, the loss of Avdiivka – taken together with Moscow’s capture of the town of Bakhmut last year – indicates how the war appears to have turned in Russia’s favor.

More recently, Russia has stepped up attacks on Ukraine’s border villages as Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the prospect of creating a “sanitary zone” inside Ukraine to protect his country’s southwestern regions.

This came after Putin secured an unsurprising victory in a widely discredited presidential election earlier this month.

Uncertainties linger over the US aid bill, which may not look like the $95 billion package the Senate passed, with Republicans keener to see some kind of loan program, while Democrats may have reservations on any additional conditions the Republican may float for the package to pass.

House Speaker Mike Johnson has signaled an openness to a separate bipartisan plan in the House, and told GOP lawmakers that he may schedule floor time after Easter recess.

Meanwhile, Zelensky said, Ukraine is scrambling “to find some way not to retreat.”

The goal for Ukraine so far is to keep the frontline situation stable, according to Zelensky. “If the front remains stable, Ukraine can arm and train new brigades in the rear to conduct a new counteroffensive later this year,” he said.

The president said Ukraine’s options depend on what Congress decides. “We can’t waste time anymore. Ukraine can’t be a political issue between the parties,” he said.

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