US aid shows Ukraine will not be 'second Afghanistan': Zelensky

Ukrainian forces fire at Russian troops with a 155 mm self-propelled howitzer 2C22 "Bohdana" in the Kharkiv region, on April 21, 2024 (Anatolii STEPANOV)
Ukrainian forces fire at Russian troops with a 155 mm self-propelled howitzer 2C22 "Bohdana" in the Kharkiv region, on April 21, 2024 (Anatolii STEPANOV)

The decision by the US House of Representatives to earmark $61 billion in long-delayed aid for Ukraine shows the country will not become "a second Afghanistan," President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday.

The House on Saturday approved the latest massive package of military and economic assistance for Ukraine as it struggles to hold off Russian forces more than two years since Moscow invaded its Eastern European neighbor.

"This aid will strengthen Ukraine and send the Kremlin a powerful signal that it will not be the second Afghanistan," Zelensky said in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press."

"The United States will stay with Ukraine, will protect Ukrainians, and... they'll protect democracy in the world," he added.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, igniting a Cold War-era insurgency that saw the United States fund and arm mujahideen fighters who drove Russian forces out a decade later.

Afghanistan then fell into civil war, and soon the hardline Taliban took power, ruling most of the country from 1996 until 2001.

That year their decision to allow the Al Qaeda jihadist group safe haven saw the United States invade in the wake of the September 11 attacks -- sparking yet another insurgency.

Nearly 20 years later, the United States also finally withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving Afghan forces battered and exhausted as the Taliban marched back into Kabul to seize power once more.

Zelensky said some of his own forces are also "exhausted."

"We need to replace them. But these new brigades, they have to have the equipment," he told Meet the Press.

The bills passed Saturday are the product of months of acrimonious negotiations, pressure from US allies and repeated pleas for assistance from Zelensky.

The United States has been the chief military backer of Ukraine in its war against Russia, but Congress has not approved large-scale funding for its ally for nearly a year and a half, mainly because of cross-aisle bickering.

The delay has undermined Kyiv's fight against Moscow, as money to replace items drawn from US stocks ran out.

The resulting gaps saw Ukrainian troops -- outnumbered and outgunned by Moscow's forces -- run short of key items such as artillery munitions, leaving them vulnerable.

The bills must still be passed by the Senate and then signed by President Joe Biden, who has promised to do so immediately, with the Pentagon adding that it will move fast to get aid to Ukraine.

"We really need to get this to the final point," Zelensky said.

"We want to, well, get things as fast as possible so that we get some tangible assistance for the soldiers on the frontline as soon as possible. Not in another six months."

bur-st/bbk