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Ukraine minister says US lawmakers 'optimistic' on providing aid

Ukraine’s Justice Minister Denys Maliuska attends an interview with Reuters in Kyiv

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ukrainian Justice Minister Denys Maliuska said on Wednesday that he had received "quite optimistic" messages from lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate about the passage of a bill that would provide aid for Ukraine.

"What we call for is to put aside any divisions or political disputes aimed at internal needs, since we see that in both camps - Republicans and Democrats - they all agree that support shall be provided," Maliuska told reporters during a news conference at the Ukrainian embassy in Washington.

Maliuska said he and Deputy Justice Minister Iryna Mudra met with a large number of lawmakers during their visit to Washington, but not with House Speaker Mike Johnson.

He said they were reassured that U.S. lawmakers understood the stakes involved for Ukraine's two-year struggle to repel Russian forces and warned that failure to secure the funds would result in "a disaster on the battlefield."

He said he expected U.S. assistance to be provided in the short term, and that it was essentially a matter of resolving certain technical issues.

Asked about a proposal to transform $8.5 billion of the $61 billion in direct budget assistance proposed for Ukraine into a loan, instead of a grant, Maliuska said the final decision would be up to the finance ministry. He said Kyiv would clearly prefer a grant, but would likely accept was offered.

"If this sort of discussion will delay the process of the provision of financial assistance, then let's put the discussion aside and take whatever is given," he said.

Maliuska and Mudra said they also discussed options for confiscating $300 billion in Russian central bank assets frozen by the West after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, underscoring their view that such action was allowed under international law.

Maliuska conceded there were still sharp disagreements among Group of Seven allies about the legal issues involved, but said a proposal to use those assets as collateral for loans to Ukraine could offer an "appropriate or acceptable compromise."

G7 officials have struggled for a year over what to do with Russian sovereign assets to help Ukraine. The debate spilled into the public during a G20 finance officials meeting in Brazil earlier this month.

G7 leaders have asked their staff to come up with options for the frozen Russian assets by the time of their June summit in Italy.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Ismail Shakil; Editing by Katharine Jackson and Bernadette Baum)