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12 Jan, 2024 14:20

Zelensky plays ‘pensioners will die’ card in bid to unlock US aid

The Ukrainian president has vowed to personally compensate American aid skeptic Ron DeSantis “once Kiev has won the war”
Zelensky plays ‘pensioners will die’ card in bid to unlock US aid

Ukrainian pensioners will die without social benefits financed by Western aid, President Vladimir Zelensky told journalists in Latvia on Thursday. The leader lashed out at US politicians who oppose continued assistance to Kiev, taking particular aim at Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis.

Zelensky addressed his government’s budget shortages, which he expects Western backers to cover, when asked how interruptions in aid deliveries could affect Ukraine. Kiev is obliged to pay pensions to around 11 million people, the president noted.

“I am not exerting moral pressure here. But we simply must pay them. It’s impossible not to do that, because the elderly people will die [without government assistance],” Zelensky warned.

He claimed that the Ukrainian government covers much of its expenses with its own money, but that it also relies on Western funding. Money spent on pensions means less funding for weapons to fight Russia, Zelensky explained, suggesting that this means sacrificing the lives of troops in favor of the elderly.

He was also asked about opposition to continued Ukraine aid among Republican politicians in the US. At a debate on Wednesday, Florida governor DeSantis, who is seeking the GOP nomination in this year’s presidential election, clashed with rival Nikki Haley on the issue of assistance to Kiev. While Haley, a former US ambassador to the UN, backs continued aid, DeSantis criticized the administration of President Joe Biden for providing “tens of billions of dollars” to pay pensions and “salaries for Ukrainian government bureaucrats.”

Zelensky claimed that DeSantis, who like the Ukrainian president is aged 45, is “still a young man” and does not fully understand the importance of paying pensions in a nation locked in a conflict. When DeSantis is older “and we have won this war, I will personally send financial aid to him as a gesture of gratitude for the US helping our pensioners,” Zelensky vowed.

Republicans in the US Congress have blocked a White House request to appropriate over $60 billion in additional aid for Ukraine, demanding concessions on immigration policy and a clear plan on how Kiev could beat Russia.