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Ukraine live briefing: U.S. contends with chaos in Congress, uncertainty over Ukraine aid

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to members of Congress inside the Old Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in September. (Tom Brenner)

The ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from his role as House speaker on Tuesday has propelled the U.S. Congress into a period of uncertainty at a time when Republican support for further U.S. aid to Ukraine has been wavering.

The removal of McCarthy, a supporter of Ukraine aid, following a procedural move by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who strongly opposes further aid, raises concerns about a shift on future U.S. assistance. Additional aid for Ukraine was blocked from a short-term funding bill last week amid opposition from Gaetz and other far-right Republicans in the GOP-controlled House.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

President Biden warned that a lapse in U.S. funding for Ukraine “could make all the difference on the battlefield” during a call with allies and partners on Tuesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists. Speaking at a news briefing before McCarthy’s removal as House speaker, Kirby said the president had “every expectation” that McCarthy would “keep his public commitment” to secure backing for Ukraine. “A lapse in support will make Putin believe he can wait us out, and that he can continue the conflict,” Biden said, according to Kirby.

Without additional funding, the Pentagon has access to just a few months of support for Ukraine, Kirby said Tuesday. Since the war began in February 2022, Washington has pledged more than $46 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. But absent additional funding by Congress, eventually you run into a hard stop,” Kirby said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he is “convinced” that U.S. and European support for his country will continue. “The United States provides support in these difficult times, and although different opinions have been expressed, the majority support Ukraine, and I am convinced that we will have support in the future as well,” he told Sky TG24 in an interview Wednesday. Zelensky also said he has invited Pope Francis to visit Ukraine.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged allies to support Ukraine so the country can “finish the job.” Writing Wednesday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Sunak said: “I say this to our allies, give [Zelensky] the tools, the Ukrainians will finish the job.”

Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, who denounced the Ukraine war on live television, was sentenced in absentia by a Moscow court to 8½ years in prison, Russian state-owned news agency Tass reported Wednesday. Ovsyannikova was charged with spreading false information about the Russian armed forces after she appeared on state-owned television carrying a sign that read “Stop the war” and “They’re lying to you,” less than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. She escaped house arrest with her 11-year-old daughter last fall. Her lawyer told Reuters news agency in mid-October 2022 that she had moved to an undisclosed European country.

A Ukrainian freelance journalist has not been heard from for two months, after she disappeared while reporting from Russian-occupied territory, the International Women’s Media Foundation said Wednesday. Victoria Roshchyna, who won the IWMF’s 2022 Courage in Journalism Award, went missing on Aug. 3, the organization said. Roshchyna spent 10 days in Russian detention in March 2022, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said it shot down 31 Ukrainian drones over three provinces bordering Ukraine overnight. The ministry’s update, posted Wednesday on Telegram, did not provide any information about any damage or casualties.

Russian air defenses “highly likely” shot down one of their own advanced combat jets in Ukraine, the British Defense Ministry said. The incident, which The Washington Post could not independently verify, took place last Thursday over the Russian-held city of Tokmak, around 12 miles from the front line, according to the British update Wednesday. It is probably only the fifth time that an Su-35S jet, which the ministry called “Russia’s most advanced combat jet in widespread service,” has been lost since the Russian invasion began, the update said.

Ukraine said its troops have made advances in the south, a target region in their counteroffensive against Russian occupation. Ukrainian Brig. Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, commander of the Tavria Joint Forces Operation, gave the update in a Telegram post on Tuesday but offered few details. The Post could not independently verify his claims.

Western allies are running low on ammunition to give to Ukraine, senior military leaders warned in a push for increased defense spending in Europe. At the Warsaw Security Forum on Tuesday, Dutch Adm. Rob Bauer, chairman of NATO’s military committee, said defense manufacturers and governments must “ramp up production in a much higher tempo” to cope with “peak demand.” He added that “the bottom of the barrel is now visible” in terms of military stockpiles. British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey echoed that sentiment, saying that Western stockpiles are “looking a bit thin.”

Armenia voted to join the International Criminal Court, further straining ties with its longtime ally, Russia. The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin in March on charges related to the detention and transfer of Ukrainian children. ICC member states are obliged to arrest him if he enters their territory.

Danish beer giant Carlsberg Group said it ended licensing agreements for its brands in Russia after Moscow transferred the management of Baltika Breweries — which had been producing and selling Carlsberg products — to government authorities in July. “We refuse to be forced into a deal on unacceptable terms, justifying the illegitimate takeover of our business in Russia,” the Carlsberg Group said in a news release.

In Ukraine, explosive DIY drones give an intimate view of killing: The predominant attack drones in Ukraine are now equipped with a first-person view, with an operator receiving the drone’s video feed in real time. They are fast, highly maneuverable and relatively cheap — and filling a gap left by a shortage of Western artillery rounds, Alex Horton and Serhii Korolchuk report.

These first-person view (FPV) drones are fashioned by hand from a few hundred dollars’ worth of material and can annihilate million-dollar equipment.

“It’s a revolution in terms of placing this precision guided capacity in the hands of regular people for a tiny fraction of the cost of the destroyed target,” said Samuel Bendett, a drone expert at the Center for Naval Analyses, a policy institute based in Arlington, Va. “We’re seeing FPV drones strike a very precise spot, which before was really the domain of very expensive, high precision guided weapons. And now it’s a $400 drone piloted by a teenager.”

Siobhán O’Grady contributed to this report.

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