Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill on Wednesday aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians from a potential Russian invasion by making it easier to send the nation defensive weapons.

The Ukrainian Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act would authorize President Biden to enter into lend and lease agreements directly with Ukraine to provide the nation with military equipment necessary to protect vulnerable civilian populations.

The legislation would streamline authority the president already has under the Arms Export Control Act to lend and lease defense equipment to allies when doing so is in Washington’s national security interest.

Under the bill, Biden would have to certify to Congress that the military equipment was necessary to protect civilian populations and require him to expedite delivery procedures for any equipment loaned to Ukraine.

The legislation would also mandate that a cyberattack on major critical infrastructure originating from Russia be treated as an armed attack.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been calling for the administration to send more lethal aid to Ukraine amid growing worries that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could occur by mid-February. 

The Biden administration last month approved an additional $200 million in defensive security assistance in the event of an invasion.

Capitol Hill has expressed great interest in protecting Ukraine against an invasion. Two bipartisan delegations have visited Kyiv to express Washington’s unity, with the most recent delegation returning this week.

“On the heels of a bipartisan delegation I helped lead to Ukraine, it’s clear the U.S. must take decisive and urgent action to support our Ukrainian partners and deter a Russian incursion,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), one of the sponsors of the legislation.

“This legislation shows there is bipartisan unity in Congress to provide President Biden with the tools needed to swiftly deliver critical defense capabilities to Ukraine and stand firm against the Kremlin,” she continued.

Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) are the lead sponsors of the bill. They were joined by Shaheen and Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn).

Biden has warned that Russia would face severe economic consequences if it were to invade, but he sparked confusion on Wednesday during a press conference when he said that Moscow would face “minor” consequences for a smaller incursion.

He clarified Thursday that “if any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion.”