Key developments on Sept. 23-24:
- Zelensky praises new American aid package as 'historic'
- Duda says Poland prepares transit corridors for Ukrainian grain, Zelensky presents state awards to Polish volunteers
- Ukrainian forces push forward near Melitopol
- Shmyhal, Pritzker hold first meeting
- U.S. House speaker drops plan to strip $300 million Ukraine aid package from funding bill
- IAEA: Previously reported mines remain at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
According to Zelensky, the new package will include "artillery, missiles for HIMARS, missiles for air defense, additional air defense systems, tactical vehicles," and more.
"This is a historic decision by America to jointly produce weapons and defense systems, including air defense. This is something that was an absolute fantasy until recently. But it will become a reality. We will make it a reality."
Earlier this week, Zelensky met U.S. President Joe Biden in the White House as part of his official visit to Washington, D.C.
During the stay of Ukraine's president in the U.S. capital, State Secretary Antony Blinken announced a new military aid package for Ukraine worth $325 million.
The new package included additional cluster munitions and air defenses but excluded the long-anticipated ATACMS missiles. However, NBC News reported that Biden told Zelensky that America would send a small number of long-range ATACMS missiles to Ukraine.
Zelensky's nightly address also emphasized a newly-established deal between Ukraine and the Government of Canada for long-term defense support.
Duda says Poland prepares transit corridors for Ukrainian grain, Zelensky presents state awards to Polish volunteers
Polish President Andrzej Duda said in an interview with local channel TVP1 on Sept. 24 that Poland has prepared transit corridors for Ukrainian grain to be "exported to where it is needed."
"Transit corridors have been prepared in Poland, thanks to which Ukrainian grain can pass through Poland and be exported where needed. We are trying to help Ukraine and those countries that require this help," Duda said, as quoted by his office.
Ukraine's dispute with Poland, traditionally one of its most ardent supporters in its struggle against Russian aggression, was sparked by Warsaw's decision to extend the import ban on Ukrainian grain products past its expiration date set by the EU on Sept. 15.
The EU instituted the measure in May at the request of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, who said the influx of cheaper Ukrainian products was putting pressure on their farmers.
"I believe that it is the right decision that the Polish government has maintained the ban on the sale of Ukrainian grain on the Polish market. However, we must do everything to ensure that transit is as high as possible," Duda said in his recent interview.
"Their excellent crops, during the war, barely reached the countries that really need it," Duda said of Ukrainian agricultural products.
He also said that "thanks to the work of our farmers, we are self-sufficient," adding that Poland does not need grain from Ukraine.
Earlier on Sept. 22, Duda said that disagreement over grain exports should not upend Polish-Ukrainian relations.
The grain dispute is just "an absolute fragment of the Polish-Ukrainian relations," and it should not threaten the close ties between the two countries, the president added.
Although the BBC connected the grain dispute to the weapons announcement, other media outlets have linked the increasingly strong language used by the Polish government towards Ukraine as an electoral tactic ahead of the upcoming Polish parliamentary elections set for Oct. 15.
Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelensky presented state awards to two Polish volunteers during a stop in Lublin, Poland, on Sept. 23 for supporting Ukraine's war effort.
"What you do is significant work—helping and supporting Ukrainians on the front lines, who are truly defending not only Ukraine but, in my view, Europe, the whole world, our common values," said Zelensky.
Zelensky also acknowledged how much Poland has done for Ukraine since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.
"I am proud that Ukraine has such a strong neighbor. I want to thank you. I want to thank the entire Polish nation, all the people who, from the very beginning, opened their families and their homes and stepped up to help. I believe that any challenges on our shared path are nothing compared to the strength between our peoples," Zelensky said.
Ukrainian forces push forward near Melitopol
The Ukrainian counteroffensive continues operations in the Melitopol sector, the General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces announced on Sept. 24.
"The Defense Forces continue their offensive in the Melitopol sector. Our defenders successfully repelled enemy attacks near Robotyne in Zaporizhzhia Oblast," the report said.
Ivan Fedorov, Melitopol's exiled mayor, said via Telegram that residents reported loud explosions in Tokmak.
He also uploaded footage claiming to show "a direct hit" on a Russian observation post near Tokmak.
Sept. 24 marks the celebration of Melitopol's City Day.
Shmyhal, Pritzker hold first meeting
Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and the first U.S. Special Representative for Economic Recovery in Ukraine Penny Pritzker had their first online meeting on Sept. 23 to discuss energy, demining, housing restoration, critical infrastructure, and the economy.
"I thanked USAID for their joint business support programs, which contribute to creating new jobs. We are collaborating with the World Bank on post-war recovery needs," Shmyhal wrote on Telegram.
Additionally, Shmyhal raised the need to confiscate frozen Russian assets to aid Ukraine's post-war recovery costs.
According to the prime minister, expanding solidarity corridors and war risk insurance were also brought up during Shmyhal and Pritzker's meeting.
"We are making progress in reforms on the path to the EU and NATO, as well as in digitization. I specifically highlighted our veteran policy and the integration of military personnel into the country's socio-economic life," Shmyhal wrote.
U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Sept. 14 the creation of a U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine's Economic Recovery and that Pritzker would assume the role.
Pritzker, 64, is credited for her experience as an "accomplished public servant" and "transformative industry leader."
Beyond shaping donor priorities and strengthening Ukraine's public sector, Pritzker will need to mobilize the U.S. private sector to invest in Ukraine.
As special representative, she will be responsible for mobilizing foreign investment, supporting the re-opening of businesses shut down by Russia's war, and helping Ukraine grow its exports.
House speaker drops plan to strip $300 million Ukraine aid package from funding bill
Kevin McCarthy, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said on Sept. 23 that he would support keeping a $300 million aid package for Ukraine in the defense funding bill, walking back a comment he made the day before.
McCarthy, a Republican, had previously said he would take this aid out due to opposition from Republican lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The speaker said that he decided to keep the Ukraine aid package, recognizing that bills funding the State Department and Foreign Operations also contain aid for Ukraine, and stripping this aid was too difficult.
The U.S. Congress has to pass a series of bills funding the different parts of the government, which will grind to a halt otherwise.
A coalition of House conservatives broke from convention and opposed the rule for the Pentagon appropriations bill twice this week, blocking the legislation from moving forward to debate and a vote on final passage.
Greene specifically opposed the bill because of the aid to Ukraine. She has come out on numerous occasions to oppose assistance to the country.
McCarthy claimed before the midterm elections last year that he would see to it that there would be a "change to how Ukraine aid is assigned."
The $300 million would fund training, equipment, lethal assistance, logistics support, supplies and services, salaries, stipends, sustainment, and intelligence support.
IAEA: Previously reported mines remain at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant
The monitoring mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has observed previously reported anti-personnel mines at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Rafael Grossi, the agency's director general, said in a statement on Sept. 23.
The IAEA experts continued to conduct walkdowns of the biggest nuclear plant in Europe this week.
"The team did not observe any heavy weapons during their walkdowns but confirmed that the previously reported mines remain in place," the statement reads.
Ukraine's military intelligence agency reported in early July that Russian forces planted remotely controlled and uncontrolled anti-personnel mines in technical and machine rooms of the Zaporizhzhia plant. Shortly after, military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said that the danger of a possible Russian terrorist attack at the plant "was diminishing."
According to the recent report by the IAEA, its experts also observed that two of the plant's units remain in cold shutdown and one in hot shutdown.
Grossi also said that the plant has completed the drilling of 10 groundwater wells, "bringing the plant close to having a longer-term solution for the provision of cooling water to the shutdown reactors after the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in June."
The IAEA representatives also reported hearing "numerous explosions some distance away."
Located in the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar, the plant has been under Russian control since the initial phase of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in March last year. Russian forces have used the nuclear power plant as a military base to launch attacks against Ukrainian-controlled territory.