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Gunners from 43rd Separate Mechanized Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine fire at Russian position with a 155 mm self-propelled howitzer 2C22 'Bohdana,' in the Kharkiv region, on April 21, amid the Russian invasion in Ukraine.ANATOLII STEPANOV/Getty Images

The expected approval of US$61-billion in long-delayed U.S. military aid to Ukraine is precipitating a race against time to dispatch weapons to Kyiv to hold off Russian advances, and raising tough questions about whether it will be enough to turn the tide.

The U.S. House of Representatives authorized the funds Saturday after an about-face by Republican Speaker Mike Johnson, setting the stage for swift passage by the Democrat-led Senate and approval from President Joe Biden, who has been pressing for the money for six months.

The Biden administration has warned that, without the money, Ukraine might lose the war by the end of the year.

“Now we have all the chance to stabilize the situation and to take the initiative, and that’s why we need to actually have the weapon systems,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Some of the funding will allow the U.S. government to send weapons from its own stockpiles at sites domestically and in Europe, with the money from Congress used to replenish supplies. Some of it, meanwhile, will pay for longer-term supply agreements between Kyiv and U.S. arms dealers.

“We would like very much to be able to rush the security assistance in the volumes we think they need to be able to be successful,” Major-General Pat Ryder, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Defence, said before the vote.

Ukraine’s first goal will be to stop Russian progress in Donetsk, where Moscow has made gains in recent weeks and is soon planning a “full-scale offensive” to take the town of Chasiv Yar, Mr. Zelensky said. Chasiv Yar is a key strategic point guarding the way to the cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Mr. Zelensky said his military most desperately needs long-range weapons and air defences. He warned that Ukraine’s future requirements will depend on “when we actually get weapons on the ground.” He pointed out that the country has still not received F-16 fighter jets despite agreement between the U.S. and several European countries a year ago to supply them.

Whether Kyiv will be able to count on further aid packages from the U.S. is uncertain. Members of the far-right Republican faction Mr. Johnson belongs to are threatening to topple him as Speaker for moving the current funds forward. And November’s election could result in Donald Trump as president and Republican control of one or both houses of Congress. Mr. Trump has opposed aid to Ukraine, arguing it is Europe’s job to help the country and not that of the U.S.

Michael Bociurkiw, an Odesa-based senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said the “drip, drip, drip” nature of support for Ukraine had “given the Russians an incredible advantage.” The lack of weaponry in recent months had helped Russia bomb Kharkiv relentlessly and target Ukrainian infrastructure because of the lack of air defence.

“Had this come months earlier when it was supposed to, countless lives probably could have been saved,” he said in an interview.

Still, the aid could also help press European countries to do more, he said. “This is kind of the starting pistol for the baton of Ukraine’s support to be passed over the Atlantic to the U.K. and Europe.”

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February, 2022, the U.S. has sent Ukraine US$75-billion in aid, including missiles, artillery, tanks, armoured vehicles, drones and ammunition. Most of the money ends up back in the U.S. through contracts between Washington or Kyiv and American weapons manufacturers. European Union countries have supplied US$36-billion.

Inna Sovsun, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, told The Globe and Mail she was “relieved” the money might finally begin to flow. “It at least gives us a chance to live another day,” she said. The delay had given Russian forces a chance to regroup, including by manufacturing more drones and missiles, she said. “This time lost, it’s going to be very difficult to make up for it.”

Oleh Nikolenko, Ukraine’s consul-general in Toronto, said Canada should step up its own help. Ottawa has given US$4-billion, proportionately significantly smaller than the U.S.’s contribution even after accounting for the different sizes of the two countries’ economies.

“We hope that the House move will also inspire our Canadian partners to develop new programs of support for Ukraine,” Mr. Nikolenko said in the statement.

Other leaders praised the U.S.’s action. “This makes us all safe, in Europe & North America,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted. “Better late than too late,” said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on the social-media site.

There is a bipartisan majority of legislators who support the continued flow of weapons to Ukraine. But pressure from the nationalistic wing of the Republican Party, which opposes aid, caused Mr. Johnson for months to refuse to bring the money for a vote.

In recent weeks, the Speaker changed his mind. He said he was convinced by intelligence briefings that, if Ukraine loses the war, Russia would next invade Poland or the Baltic states and trigger war with NATO. The vote tally was 311 to 112, with all Democrats in favour and a majority of Republicans against.

“We did our work here and I think history will judge it well,” Mr. Johnson told reporters after the vote.

Far-right lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene has drafted a motion to overthrow Mr. Johnson and is gathering support before moving ahead.

With a report from Associated Press

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