Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are pressing the Biden administration to quickly send more military aid to Ukraine as the west raises new alarms over the looming threat of a Russian invasion.
Following two Congressional delegations to Ukraine – including a bipartisan group of seven senators who traveled to Kyiv earlier this week – lawmakers have joined together to push the White House to do more to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from launching an attack on the Kremlin’s former territory.
The appeals have not fallen on deaf ears, with the administration on Wednesday announcing an additional $200 million in defensive security assistance to Ukraine, approved last month and given in the event of an expected attack from Russia.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, during a visit to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, told the leader that more military aid is “scheduled in the coming weeks,” he relayed to reporters.
But some lawmakers say extra help is needed and fast, as the U.S. and NATO attempt to circumvent an incursion from a bellicose Russia that has amassed an estimated 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine. The Kremlin has also sent an unspecified number of troops to Belarus for war games north of Ukraine next month.
“We need to be an integral part of doing more than has already been announced and we need to make sure that if Vladimir Putin takes this step and makes this mistake . . . . that it will be a mistake he will long regret and long remember,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), told reporters during a GOP press conference Wednesday.
Wicker, who traveled to Kyiv this week as part of the Senate delegation, joined GOP members of the Senate Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations committees in pressing for further sanctions on Russia and military aid to Ukraine to deter the Kremlin from an attack.
Earlier on Wednesday, in a virtual meeting between President Biden and eight senators – including the seven in the delegation – the two sides “exchanged views on the best ways the United States can continue to work closely with our allies and partners in support of Ukraine, including both ongoing diplomacy to try to resolve the current crisis and deterrence measures,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Among the asks from the lawmakers are more anti tank missiles and anti aircraft weapons for the ex-Soviet nation, including Stinger missiles, which can be fired at low altitude aircraft such as drones and helicopter.
“The point made this morning by my colleagues, which I agree with, is that we need to do even more. We are in a position of being able to help Ukraine defend itself,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who was part of the delegation, said of the meeting.
The call is not unique to just GOP lawmakers, with Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) last month urging the administration to “back Ukraine in any possible way.” Gallego, a veteran and the chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on intelligence and special operations, made the plea after he led a bipartisan congressional delegation to Ukraine in December.
“We have to give them the capability for them to resist Ukraine, Russian invasion, both prior to the invasion, but even post-invasion, making sure that we bring in weaponry that will actually, you know, put a toll on the Russian troop movements,” he said.
Gallego was also among 22 House lawmakers who in early December wrote a bipartisan letter to Biden urging him to immediately provide military aid Ukraine had requested, including Stingers, Javelin anti-tank missiles, drones, anti-ship missiles, electronic jamming gear, radars, ammunition, and medical supplies.
The United States has shown it is more than willing to help beef up Ukraine’s defenses, sending approximately $2.7 billion in military assistance to the country since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and backed a separatist insurgency that has killed more than 14,000 people over eight years of conflict.
In the past year alone, Washington has committed $650 million in security assistance to Kyiv.
But the White House has been hesitant to green light more lethal aid in recent months, instead attempting a diplomatic approach to talk down Moscow.
U.S. officials joined discussions in Geneva and a NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels last week, but the talks hit a dead end over Moscow’s insistence that NATO not expand and not position its forces and weapons in Ukraine or other former Soviet nations, a demand that the military alliance has turned down.
U.S. officials have since issued stark statements on the situation, last week saying they have evidence of Russia laying the groundwork for a false flag operation that could serve as a pretext for invading Ukraine.
Biden, in a Wednesday afternoon press conference, sparked confusion and criticism over remarks that suggested Russia would face lesser consequences for launching a “minor” attack on Ukraine after the president said he guessed that Putin would likely make a move.
President Biden, in a Wednesday afternoon press conference sparked confusion and criticism over remarks during a press conference that suggested Russia would face lesser consequences for launching a “minor” attack on Ukraine after the president said he guessed that Putin would likely be making a move.
“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades, and it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not to do,” Biden said.
Psaki quickly clarified after the press conference that “If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies,”
Such threats make more military aid to Ukraine all the more imperative, lawmakers say.
“It’s clear the White House needs to stop slow rolling lethal aid out of concern for antagonizing Putin and accelerate defense weaponry such as surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles to Ukraine forces to make it clear to Putin the military costs will be significant. I’ve been heartened to see that Democrats who traveled with me to Ukraine agree, ” said Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.), who was part of the five-member bipartisan delegation to Kyiv in December.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said Wednesday it is “critical that we provide defensive capabilities to our allies in Ukraine as they courageously defend their country against a threat of a Russian invasion.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), said the threat of sanctions is not enough to deter Putin from further attacking Ukraine, nor are “the promises of financial assistance to the Ukrainians at some undetermined position or time in the future.”
“Our goal on a bipartisan basis should be to stop Putin and to make him think twice about invading,” Cornyn said Wednesday during the GOP media appearance. “One of the things that we should do is to consider whether we ought to, as we did in World War II, make the United States once again the arsenal of democracy and provide, along with our allies, lethal weapons with which to deter” Putin.
Congress currently disagrees on how to go about imposing stronger sanctions on Russia in the event of an attack, though there is widespread agreement such financial penalties are crucial.
GOP Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced now voted-down bill that would have imposed heavy sanctions on the Russia state company that helped build Nord Stream 2, the not yet operational gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), meanwhile, introduced legislation that would impose financial penalties on Moscow as well as give extra lethal aid to Ukraine.
And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) last week introduced yet another bill that would force personal sanctions on Putin and other Russian officials in the event of an incursion.
Portman said that while there may be some disagreements on the specific bill, lawmakers want bipartisan legislation “that expresses the strong, unified position of this Congress . . . saying that we are going to impose devastating sanctions should [Russia invade], and that we are going to provide additional military assistance to Ukraine.”
The administration so far has been scarce on details for any future military packages to Kyiv and has not revealed what is included in the recently announced $200 million for the county.
Asked whether the White House is planning any further lethal aid, a spokesperson from the National Security Council pointed to the hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance the U.S. has committed to Ukraine in the last year.
“Those deliveries are ongoing, and there are more scheduled in the coming weeks,” they told The Hill.
The Pentagon has also avoided such questions, with press secretary John Kirby on Tuesday saying he had nothing to announce.
“We’re going to continue to look for ways to help Ukraine defend itself, and that does include additional security assistance. But again, nothing to say today about that,” Kirby told reporters.
Biden said Wednesday the U.S. is “going to fortify our NATO allies,” near Ukraine though he did not go into details.