Ukraine accepted as EU membership candidate; Biden approves $450 million military aid package

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said the Donbas region of east Ukraine is continuing to see what he called “massive air and artillery strikes.”

“The goal of the occupiers in this direction remains the same – they want to destroy the whole Donbas step by step” he said in his nightly address.

Meanwhile, Ukraine took a major step on its long road toward European Union membership, as leaders of the bloc accepted it as a candidate to join.

Several cities, towns and villages in the Luhansk region have been the focus of severe fighting for several weeks, with Russian and Ukrainian forces engaged in street battles while Russian artillery fire destroys infrastructure and homes in the region.

Tensions remain high between Russia and Lithuania after the latter, a NATO member, banned the rail transfer of all EU sanctioned goods (such as metals, coal, construction materials and high-technology products) coming from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea.

Russia has warned of “serious” consequences against what it has called “hostile actions” of Lithuania, while NATO members have reiterated their support for the country.

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm takes questions during a media briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 23, 2021.

John Kirby, U.S. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, speaks to reporters during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 23, 2022.

The Biden administration announced a 13th security assistance package for Ukraine worth $450 million.

“This package contains weapons and equipment including new high mobility artillery rocket systems, tens of thousands of additional rounds of ammunition for the artillery systems that have already been provided, as well as patrol boats to help Ukraine defend its coast and its waterways,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby at a daily White House press briefing.

The assistance package includes the following, according to a Pentagon release:

4 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HMARS
36,000 rounds of 105 mm ammunition
18 tactical vehicles to tow 155 mm artillery
1,200 grenade launchers
2,000 machine guns
18 coastal and riverine patrol boats
Spare parts and other equipment
The latest security package brings the U.S. commitment to $6.1 billion since Russia invaded Ukraine.

— Amanda Macias

Oil industry says Granholm meeting sends ‘positive signal’

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm takes questions during a media briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 23, 2021.

An oil industry meeting with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to lower gas prices and boost domestic oil supplies was constructive, but did not produce a major breakthrough, administration and industry officials said.

The closed-door meeting came as President Joe Biden called on Congress to suspend federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel as a way to relieve high gas prices that have frustrated drivers and spurred inflation.

The Democratic president also called on states to suspend their own gas taxes or provide similar relief, and he delivered a public critique of the energy industry for prioritizing profits over production.

“It doesn’t reduce all the pain but it will be a big help,” Biden said Wednesday, referring to the national average of $5 per gallon for gas. Biden said he was doing his part and now wants Congress, states and industry to do their parts as well.

— Associated Press

China’s Xi criticizes sanctions at meeting of BRICS nations

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech in virtual format at the opening ceremony of the BRICS Business Forum, June 22, 2022.

Chinese President Xi Jinping opened a meeting of leaders of major developing countries by saying the world should oppose unilateral sanctions and efforts by some countries to maintain their political and military power.

Xi’s remarks at the virtual meeting of the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, known collectively as “BRICS,” reflect China’s tacit backing of Russia in the war in Ukraine and its desire to form an international alliance opposed to the U.S.-led liberal democratic order.

The BRICS meeting comes amid rising concerns over the global economic outlook and a growing political divide between China and India.

Nations need to “reject the Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation, oppose unilateral sanctions and abuse of sanctions, and reject the small circles built around hegemonism by forming one big family belonging to a community with a shared future for humanity,” Xi was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

— Associated Press

Biden to propose additional measures aimed at Russia to G-7 and NATO leaders

President Joe Biden speaks about gas prices in the South Court Auditorium at the White House campus on June 22, 2022 in Washington, DC.

The Biden administration is slated to present a set of proposals to increase pressure on Russia at the upcoming G-7 and NATO summit. The proposals will “demonstrate our support collectively for Ukraine,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters on a conference call.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of the administration’s plans, said that Biden will also address with global leaders “the impact of Putin’s war on prices,” including rising food costs and shortages due to a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports.

The official declined to elaborate further on the types of measures the Biden administration plans to propose to leaders at both summits.

— Amanda Macias

Germany’s Scholz says G-7 to discuss ‘Marshall plan’ for Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that he wants to discuss the outlines of a “Marshall plan for Ukraine” with the leaders of the Group of Seven countries at their upcoming summit in Germany.

Scholz hopes for a united front on long-term support for Ukraine when he hosts the annual G-7 summit in Bavaria next week. The group of the world’s leading economic powers is made up of the U.S., France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., Canada and Japan.

The chancellor told Germany’s parliament that “rebuilding Ukraine will be a task for generations.” Recalling his visit last week to Irpin, a Kyiv suburb that saw intense fighting, he said that “some things there remind not just me of the pictures of German cities after World War II.”

Like Europe then, “Ukraine today needs a Marshall plan for its rebuilding,” Scholz said — referring to the U.S.-sponsored plan that helped revive European economies after WWII.

— Associated Press

Stoltenberg says Sweden and Finland should join NATO alliance ‘as soon as possible’

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference following a NATO defence ministers meeting at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 16, 2022.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance will address Turkey’s concerns about Finland and Sweden’s applications to join NATO next week in Madrid.

“We are now working actively on the next steps in the accession process of both Finland and Sweden. And addressing Turkey’s security concerns, including in the fight against terrorism,” Stoltenberg said during a discussion hosted by Politico.

“My aim is to find a common way forward so that both countries can join our alliance as soon as possible,” he said, adding that the addition of Sweden and Finland will “make them safer, NATO stronger and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure.”

In May, both nations began the formal process of applying to the NATO alliance. President Joe Biden welcomed leaders from both countries to the White House and pledged to work with Congress — which has to ratify U.S. approval of NATO bids — and the other 29 members of the world’s most powerful military alliance to swiftly bring Sweden and Finland into the group.

— Amanda Macias

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