WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has asked Congress for $33 billion to fund both humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine through September of this year, he said Thursday.
The massive aid package is accompanied by a proposal to Congress that it amend several longstanding criminal laws to make it easier for the US to sell off the seized assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs.
The $33 billion includes a request for $20.4 billion in additional security and military assistance for Ukraine, as well as additional money to fund US efforts to bolster European security in cooperation with NATO allies.
“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.
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, Biden said.
Part of it is also intended to support small- and medium-sized agricultural businesses during the fall harvest, and for natural gas purchases.
This money is likely to come in the form of direct financial assistance, a relatively rare form of international aid.
Most foreign assistance is things that have already been purchased, like weapons and food. It can also come in the form of expertise, aid workers, or loans. Rarely is direct economic support provided. This makes it the closest thing to cash from one government to another.
Biden said the direct US aid to Ukraine’s economy is “going to allow pensions and social support to be paid to the Ukrainian people, so that they have something in their pocket.”
Another $3 billion will help provide more traditional humanitarian assistance in the form of wheat and other commodities to people outside Ukraine who have been hurt by the dramatic rise in the price of food caused by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ships that would otherwise be exporting millions of metric tons of grain around the world.
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 Biden’s package Thursday is a broad set of proposals 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.
The two-part request to Congress comes as the war enters its third month and as US military leaders say their strategic objectives in Ukraine are shifting to reflect a medium-term goal and a long-term goal.
In the immediate future, the aim is to arm Ukrainian forces so that they can secure an outright victory in the war by expelling Russia from Ukraine entirely.
But longer term, the US now seeks more broadly to weaken Russia’s entire power structure by tying up its troops in a war of attrition while crippling its economy with sanctions and trade embargoes.
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