Biden seeks more financial muscle to counter Russia
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President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday for an additional $33 billion to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion, a signal that the U.S. is prepared to mount a robust, long-term campaign to bolster Kyiv and weaken Moscow as the bloody war enters its third month with no sign of abating.
Biden’s latest proposal – which the White House said was expected to support Ukraine’s needs for five months – has more than $20 billion in military assistance for Kyiv and for shoring up defenses in nearby countries. There is also $8.5 billion in economic aid to help keep Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government functioning and $3 billion for food and humanitarian programs to help civilians, including the more than five million refugees created by the war.
The assistance package, which now heads to Congress for consideration, would be more than twice as large as an initial $13.6 billion of defense and economic aid for Ukraine and Western allies that Congress enacted last month and is now almost exhausted. It was meant to signify that the U.S. is not tiring of helping to stave off Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to expand his nation’s control of its neighbor, and perhaps beyond.
“The cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is going to be more costly,” Biden said. “It’s critical this funding gets approved and as quickly as possible.”
The request comes with the fighting, now in its ninth week, sharpening in eastern and southern parts of the country and international tensions growing as Russia cuts off gas supplies to two NATO allies, Poland and Bulgaria.
There is wide, bipartisan support in Congress for giving Ukraine all the assistance it needs to fight the Russians, and its eventual approval seems certain. But Biden and congressional Democrats also want lawmakers to approve billions more to battle the pandemic, and that along with a Republican push to entangle the measure with an extension of some Trump-era immigration restrictions leaves the proposal’s pathway to enactment unclear.
The White House has proposed giving the government greater power to seize and sell the assets of Russian oligarchs, and transfer their proceeds to Ukraine. The legislative proposal will be presented to Congress for consideration.
It follows similar legislation recently passed in the US House of Representatives. But the new White House plans go further, focusing on collaboration between Justice, Treasury, State and Commerce departments. The measures would make it easier for the US to seize and sell oligarchs’ assets, and use the funds “to remediate harms of Russian aggression”, the White House said in a statement.