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Zelensky cancels videolink appeal to US senate

WASHINGTON, United States — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky unexpectedly canceled a scheduled videolink appeal to US senators Tuesday as Washington is set for a showdown on funding for the war with Russia.

Zelensky was to appear during a classified briefing, a day before the Senate takes the first procedural vote on an emergency aid package that includes more than $60 billion for Kyiv.

The cash has been held up for weeks by a row in Congress, as the White House has warned that existing funds will run out by the end of the year and that Russia's President Vladimir Putin could win the war if lawmakers fail to act.

"Zelensky by the way could not make it -- something happened at the last minute -- to our briefing," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Underlining their urgent need to keep funds and arms flowing, top Ukrainian officials were making the rounds in the US capital in person. 

Congress is more divided over backing for Ukraine than it has been at any time during the nearly two-year conflict, with the country fast exhausting the military aid provided by the United States so far.

Senate Republicans are conditioning their support for the funding on President Joe Biden's Democrats accepting measures to address migrant issues at the southern border -- reforms the Democrats have already rejected.

"We can't ever put a price on defending democracy in its hour of need, because if Ukraine falls, Putin will keep on going," Schumer said before Zelensky's cancellation.

"Autocrats around the world will be emboldened. Democracy, this grand and noble experiment, will enter an era of decline."

Schumer has teed up a vote Wednesday on clearing the first procedural hurdle for addressing Biden's $106 billion aid request for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

But it needs 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, and the 49-strong Republican minority looks likely to defeat the package as it leaves out their immigration reforms.

Texas Republican John Cornyn said in a speech on the Senate floor the proposal had "zero chance of becoming law."

"Our security cannot come second to that of other countries around the world, our allies, even those like Ukraine and Israel," he said.