US president asks for $33 billion for Ukraine, sign of long-term commitment

President Joe Biden on Thursday asked Congress for $33 billion to bolster Ukraine’s fight against Russia, signaling nascent, long-term US engagement as the invasion of Moscow and the international tensions it inflamed show no signs of backing down.

The package provides about $20 billion in defense spending for Ukraine and its US allies in the region and $8.5 billion for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government to continue providing services and paying salaries. There’s $3 billion in global food and humanitarian programs, including money to help Ukrainian refugees who fled to the United States and to encourage American farmers to grow wheat and other crops to replace the large quantities of food that Ukraine normally produces.

The package, which administration officials said would last five months, is more than double the initial $13.6 billion relief measure that Congress signed into law early last month and is now nearly exhausted. As the bloody war enters its third month, the measure was designed to signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that US weaponry and other aid flows are not going away.

“The world owes and will hold Russia accountable,” Biden said. “And as long as the aggressions and atrocities continue, we will continue to provide military assistance.”

Zelenskyy thanked the United States in his nightly video address to his nation. “President Biden rightly said today that this step was not cheap,” he said. “But the negative consequences for the whole world of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and against democracy are so massive that in comparison, the support of the United States is necessary.”

Biden’s request to Congress is accompanied by strong ongoing Russian offensives in eastern and southern Ukraine, and calls by Zelenskyy for long-range and offensive weapons. The United States and others have pledged to step up deliveries of such equipment, and summaries of Biden’s plan mention artillery, armored vehicles, and anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons and ammunition.

Biden said the new package “addresses the needs of the Ukrainian military over the crucial weeks and months ahead” and begins a transition to longer-term security assistance that “will help Ukraine deter and to continue to defend against Russian aggression”.

The proposal also comes as Russia has cut off gas supplies to two NATO allies, Poland and Bulgaria, raising concerns that war and its aftermath in one form or another could eventually spread elsewhere.

Biden pledged the United States would work to meet the energy needs of its allies, saying, “We won’t let Russia bully or blackmail its exit from sanctions.”

Bipartisan support in Congress for Ukraine is strong, and lawmakers will no doubt approve the aid. But Republicans said they were reviewing the details of the proposal, including its balance between defense and other spending, and would not reflexively go along with Biden’s $33 billion figure.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 GOP leader in the Senate, said if Republicans have pledged to help Ukraine, “that’s a pretty mind-blowing number.”

Biden’s $1 billion request represents more than half of the entire $60 billion proposed budgets for next year for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The $20 billion defense portion of Thursday’s package represents about a third of Russia’s total military budget and well exceeds Ukraine’s $6 billion defense spending. Both figures are for 2021 and were compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Institute, a Swedish organization that studies defense issues.

Biden has proposed $800 billion for the Pentagon for next year.

According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, the United States has spent nearly $2 trillion on Iraq and another $2.3 trillion on Afghanistan since 9/11. are more than 8 trillion dollars.

The biggest potential stumbling blocks in Congress are Democrats’ desire to also consider billions more to fight the pandemic, and a GOP willingness to force an election-year vote on renewing some restrictions on Trump-era immigration that seem likely to divide Democrats.

But the combination of these ingredients yields a complicated political brew that could slow Ukraine’s cash as every day counts for outnumbered forces in Kyiv. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., says he wants to combine Ukraine and COVID-19 spending — virus money gets only lukewarm support from the GOP — but was notably silent on this issue on Thursday.

Biden appeared to open the door to letting the Ukraine measure evolve separately, which would pick up its pace. “They can do it separately or together,” Biden said, “but we need both.”

Biden on Thursday asked lawmakers to provide $22.5 billion for vaccines, treatments, tests and aid to other countries in continued efforts to contain COVID-19.

But this request, which he also made last month, seems symbolic. In a compromise with Republicans, Senate Democrats have already agreed to cut that amount to $10 billion, and raising the higher amount seems unlikely.

Biden also asked Congress on Thursday for new powers to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs, saying the United States was seizing luxury yachts and homes from “bad guys.” He offered to let the government use the proceeds from the sale of these properties to help the Ukrainian people.

President wants lawmakers to criminalize ‘knowingly or intentionally possessing proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government’, to double the statute of limitations for foreign money laundering offenses to 10 years and expand the definition of “racketeering” under US law to include efforts to evade sanctions.

In recent weeks, the United States and its global allies have sanctioned dozens of oligarchs and their family members, as well as hundreds of Russian officials implicated in or deemed to support its invasion of Ukraine. The White House says the new tools will heighten the impact of sanctions on Russia’s economy and its ruling class by making sanctions harder to circumvent.

Of the new money Biden is requesting for military purposes, $6 billion would be used to directly arm Ukraine and $5.4 billion to replace U.S. supplies sent to the region. There is also $4.5 billion for other security assistance for Ukraine and US allies and $2.6 billion for the continued deployment of US forces in the region.

The proposed spending also includes $1.2 billion to help Ukrainian refugees fleeing to the United States with cash assistance, English lessons and school district assistance with Ukrainian students. There is $1.6 billion for global food programs to offset shortages caused by the impact of war on Ukraine’s food production.

Kevin E. Boling