Biden to ask Congress for $33 billion to support Ukraine through September
President Joe Biden will ask Congress for $33 billion to fund both humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine through September of this year, senior administration officials said Thursday.
The massive aid package will be accompanied by a proposal to Congress that it amend several longstanding criminal laws to make it easier for the U.S. to seize the assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs, sell the seized property and funnel the proceeds to the Ukrainians.
“It’s not cheap. But caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen,” Biden said Thursday.
“We either back the Ukrainian people as they defend their country, or we stand by as the Russians continue their atrocities and aggression in Ukraine every day,” said Biden.
The administration said this is intended to equip Kyiv and European partners with additional artillery, armored vehicles and anti-armor and anti-air capabilities, accelerate cyber capabilities and advanced air defense systems, and help clear landmines and improvised explosive devices.
In a letter accompanying his request to Congress, Biden warned lawmakers that the cost of failing to check Russian President Vladimir Putin would be far greater than the current policy proposal.
“What I want to make clear to the Congress and the American people is this: The cost of failing to stand up to violent aggression in Europe has always been higher than the cost of standing firm against such attacks,” Biden added.
Another portion of the $33 billion is a sum of $8.5 billion to help support the Ukrainian economy.
That total will help fund Ukraine’s government, support food, energy, and health care services for the Ukrainian people, and counter Russian disinformation and propaganda narratives. The $8.5 billion is also intended to support small- and medium-sized agricultural businesses during the fall harvest and for natural gas purchases.
Three billion dollars will help provide humanitarian assistance around the globe in the form of wheat and other commodities to people in need thanks to a dramatic rise in the price of food due to Russia’s invasion.
The two-part request to Congress comes as the war enters its third month and as U.S. military leaders say their strategic objectives in Ukraine are now two-fold. The first is to arm Ukrainian forces so that they can secure an outright victory in the war by expelling Russia from Ukraine entirely. The second is to weaken Russia’s entire power structure over the long-term by tying up its troops in a war of attrition while crippling its economy with sanctions and trade embargoes.
The supplemental budget request to Congress is expected to win broad support among Republicans and Democrats, even as it pushes the total American expenditure in Ukraine past 36 billion in just 9 months.
The other part of the package is a broad set of proposals Biden will send to Congress to change current laws to make it easier for the Treasury and State Departments to follow through on the hundreds of individual sanctions that have been imposed on Russian oligarchs, companies and government officials since the start of the war.
Under federal law, in order to sell off seized assets, prosecutors must first show that they are the proceeds of a crime. Currently, being a sanctioned Russian oligarch isn’t a crime.
Legal scholars have noted that without a crime, oligarchs could sue for the return of their property, and would stand a good chance of winning in court. Under Biden’s proposal, Congress would create a new federal offense of knowingly possessing proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government.