Key updates on Sept. 30-Oct. 1:
- Biden: 'We can't allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted'
- Sunak: No plans to send British troops to Ukraine
- Fico wins Slovak election on pro-Russian, populist platform
- Medvedev threatens Russia will seize more Ukrainian regions
- Media: Russian soldier working with intelligence defects to Ukrainian forces
U.S. President Joe Biden stressed the importance of providing continued aid to Ukraine after signing into law a Congress-passed funding that lacked it. The bill's signing into law avoided a U.S. government shutdown set to take effect as of midnight on Oct. 1.
"We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted," Biden concluded in his statement.
Biden also said that although the bill does not include financial assistance for Ukraine, he expects U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy "will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment."
Since January 2021, the U.S. has invested more than $44.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This includes more than $43.9 billion since Russia launched its full-scale invasion against Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
Following the bill's passage to avoid a government shutdown, top U.S. Senate leaders issued a rare bipartisan statement affirming their commitment to Ukraine.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and representatives of the appropriations committees said they expect the Senate will work "to ensure the U.S. government continues to provide critical and sustained security and economic support for Ukraine."
Although a stopgap funding bill to prevent a U.S. government shutdown was passed on Sept. 30 without any provisions for aid for Ukraine, President's Office Head Andriy Yermak said on Oct 1 that it should not be construed as a change in U.S. support for Ukraine.
In comments published on Telegram, Yermak said that Ukrainian leadership regularly meets with bipartisan representatives about the continuation of U.S. aid. Despite the omission of aid provisions in the latest spending bill, he expressed confidence that it did not reflect a more significant shift away from U.S. support for Ukraine.
Oleh Nikolenko, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that although the shutdown may cause disruptions to certain programs, it would not fundamentally alter Ukraine's overall state of aid.
Sunak: No plans to send British troops to Ukraine
There are no current plans to send British troops to Ukraine, even in a limited capacity as trainers, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Oct. 1.
In comments to The Telegraph, Sunak walked back recent remarks from newly appointed Defense Secretary Grant Shapps, who expressed interest in sending British military trainers to Ukraine in an earlier interview on Sept. 30.
Sunak clarified that the Shapps' comments should be considered as pertaining to a long-term partnership with Ukraine. There could be trainers on the ground sometime in the future, Sunak said, but stressed that "there are no British soldiers that will be sent to fight in the current conflict.”
In response to Shapps' suggestion, Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman and former president Dmitry Medvedev wrote on Telegram that any British troops on the ground in Ukraine would be considered legitimate targets.
The U.K. has trained over 20,000 Ukrainian troops abroad since the start of the full-scale invasion, according to the British Defense Ministry.
At the start of 2023, the U.K. said it would train 20,000 more Ukrainian troops, making it "one of the largest training programs in the world," according to the Defense Ministry added.
Fico wins Slovak election on pro-Russian, populist platform
Slovakia's SMER (Direction) party led by former prime minister Robert Fico has gained a narrow victory in the Slovak parliamentary elections on Sept. 30, with almost 100% of the votes counted as of Oct. 1.
Campaigning on a pro-Russian, populist platform, and promising to end aid to Ukraine if elected, Fico and SMER received 22.9% of the vote, besting the leading competitor, the liberal, pro-Western Progressive Slovakia (PS) party, who came in second place with 17.9%.
As neither gained an outright victory, SMER will have to form a government with one or more other parties in a coalition. Analysts believe it is possible that SMER will attempt to join with the left-wing HLAS party that split away from SMER in 2020.
HLAS came in third place with 14.7% of the vote. Another possible coalition member would be the openly pro-Russian ultranationalist Slovak National Party, which received 5.6%.
Seven parties gained more than the 5% threshold for having representation in parliament, so the coalition-building process may be complicated.
Fico was previously the prime minister of Slovakia from 2006 to 2010. He was re-elected in 2012 but resigned in 2018 following a political crisis sparked by the murder of the investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.
Before he was killed, Kuciak had investigated corruption scandals in Fico's party and alleged ties between the Italian mafia and Fico's associates.
In addition to regularly remarking that he would stop providing Ukraine with aid if elected, Fico opposes EU sanctions against Russia and wants Slovakia, a NATO member, to block Ukraine from joining the alliance.
Fico has also repeated the myth that the war in Ukraine began as a civil war, a narrative Russia used to try to conceal its involvement in Donbas.
On Aug. 30, he told a crowd of supporters that the war in Ukraine began "when the Ukrainian Nazis and fascists started to murder Russian citizens in Donbas and Luhansk," repeating Russian propaganda.
Previously, Slovakia has been supportive of providing Ukraine with aid, including transferring a number of MiG-29 fighter jets.
Fico’s primary opponent Michal Simecka, who leads PS, promised to maintain support for Ukraine. He stressed that a reversal of Slovakia’s current position of providing support would put the nation at odds with other EU and NATO countries, and could cause Slovakia to become isolated.
Medvedev threatens Russia will seize more Ukrainian regions
Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev issued a veiled threat that Russia intends to seize more Ukrainian regions in a Telegram post on Sept. 30.
In a Telegram message commemorating one year since Russia's illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions, Medvedev said, "There will be more new regions within Russia."
Medvedev claimed Russia's war will continue until the Ukrainian government is "completely destroyed" and the "original Russian territories are liberated from the enemy."
Russia proclaimed the annexation of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Kherson, and Luhansk oblasts on Sept. 30, 2022. However, none of the four regions are fully under Russian control.
Media: Russian soldier working with Ukraine's intelligence defects
A Russian soldier working with Ukraine's Military Intelligence (HUR) has defected to Ukrainian forces, the military intelligence said on Sept. 30.
The soldier, Daniil Alfyorov, had been working with Ukrainian intelligence since July and had successfully convinced 11 other Russian soldiers to defect to the Ukrainian side, Andriy Yusov, a HUR spokesman, said.
When it became clear that suspicions had arisen and there was a risk to Alfyorov's life, Ukrainian special forces undertook an operation to evacuate him to Ukrainian-controlled territory, Yusov added.
Alfyorov said he initially contacted Ukrainian forces via the hotline known as "I want to live." Launched in September 2022 by Ukraine's Main Directorate of Intelligence, the 24-hour hotline helps Russians to surrender themselves or their units to the Ukrainian army willingly. Russians are promised that after surrender, they will be held in compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
A report by Ukraine's Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War found in March 2023 that nearly 10,000 Russians had contacted the hotline.
In August 2023, the hotline marked a significant 70% increase in traffic after a Russian helicopter pilot defected to the Ukrainian side with a fully intact Mi-8 helicopter, and subsequently received the hryvnia equivalent of $500,000 (approximately Hr 18 million).
In April 2022, Ukraine's parliament passed a law offering up to $1 million to Russian military personnel who manage to transfer equipment to Ukraine. The size of the reward depends on the type of equipment they hand over.
At the time of this publication, it is unknown what Alfyorov's status is in Ukraine, or what his monetary reward may be.