Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — $40B Ukraine package heads to Biden’s desk

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The Senate on Thursday passed a $40 billion supplemental appropriations bill for Ukraine.  

We’ll talk about next steps. Plus, we’ll recap President Biden’s meeting with Sweden’s and Finland’s leaders. 

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Senate passes $40 billion Ukraine aid  

The Senate voted 86-11 Thursday to approve a $40 billion Ukraine aid package that would replenish U.S. stockpiles of weapons transferred to Ukraine, as well as allocate billions of dollars to help the Ukrainian government continue operating and provide humanitarian assistance.   

President Biden is expected to immediately sign the legislation, which exceeds his $33 billion request to Congress.  

Recapping the bill: The House passed the legislation overwhelmingly earlier this month by a vote of 368-57.

The bill would authorize the transfer of American weapons and equipment to Ukraine and provide $9 billion to replenish depleted U.S. weapons stockpiles. It would also provide nearly $9 billion for continued operations of the Ukrainian government and
$4 billion in international disaster assistance.   

Just in time: Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Congress last week to pass the bill by Thursday if the U.S. wanted to continue sending aid to Ukraine at the current pace.  

The administration had predicted that the $100 million leftover in presidential drawdown authority—which allows the Pentagon to send weapons from its own stockpile — would last through the middle of May.  

The ‘no’ votes: Eleven Republican senators led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voted against the measure:

  • Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.)
  • John Boozman (Ark.)
  • Mike Braun (Ind.)
  • Mike Crapo (Idaho)
  • Bill Hagerty (Tenn.)
  • Josh Hawley (Mo.)
  • Mike Lee (Utah)
  • Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.)
  • Roger Marshall (Kan.)
  • Tommy Tuberville (Ala.)

BIDEN SENDS MORE EQUIPMENT TO UKRAINE 

The Biden administration announced $100 million in military assistance to Ukraine on Thursday, moments after the Senate sent a $40 billion supplemental aid package to the president’s desk. 

The equipment will include additional artillery, radars and other equipment to Ukraine, President Biden said in a statement following passage of the Ukraine aid.   

In a separate statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the weapons will be coming from the Pentagon’s existing inventories. 

“These weapons and equipment will go directly to the front lines of freedom in Ukraine, and reiterate our strong support for the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country against Russia’s ongoing aggression,” Biden said. 

Read more here 

Biden fully supports Finland, Sweden in NATO

President Biden on Thursday offered full-throated support for Finland’s and Sweden’s applications to join NATO, arguing that the addition of the two nations would strengthen the alliance.   

Biden sought to project confidence that both countries would be accepted into the alliance, despite vocal objections from Turkey, which is also a NATO member. 

Earlier in the day: Thursday morning, Biden met with Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö.  

The president “warmly welcomed their applications for NATO membership, which will strengthen our collective security,” the White House said in a readout of the call.   

“At this historic moment for both Finland and Sweden, the President underscored his commitment to support both countries as they seek formal NATO accession, including by working with NATO Allies and Congress to welcome them into the Alliance as quickly as possible,” the readout continued.  

What Biden said: “Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries, and strong and transparent economies, and a strong and moral sense of what is right,” Biden said following a meeting at the White House with the leaders of both countries. “They meet every NATO requirement and then some.”  

“Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger,” the president said. “And a strong, united NATO is the foundation of America’s security.”  

Addressing Turkey’s objections: Turkey’s objection stems from accusations that both countries harbor members of the Kurdistan’s Workers Party, a separatist group that is also known as the PKK. The group is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and the U.S. 

Both Niinistö and Andersson said Thursday that their countries were working directly to address Turkey’s concerns. 

Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, have also been engaging with their Turkish counterparts.  

Read more here

Milley speaks with Russian counterpart 

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley spoke with his Russian counterpart on Thursday, the first such conversation between the two since the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine began in late February, according to the Pentagon.  

Milley spoke by phone with Valery Gerasimov, chief of the Russian general staff, and they “discussed several security-related issues of concern and agreed to keep the lines of communication open,” Joint Staff spokesperson Col. Dave Butler said in a readout of the conversation.  

The Pentagon did not provide further information on the conversation.   

The last conversation: The last time the two military officials spoke was on Feb. 18, six days before Russia first attacked Ukraine.  

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, less than one week ago, also for the first time since Feb. 18. 

Prior to both conversations, the Pentagon had consistently tried to reach out to Russian defense officials through a special “deconfliction” hotline based at the U.S. European Command’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. But until last week, the U.S. outreach was repeatedly rebuffed, according to defense officials. 

EUCOM commander weighs in: Asked about the call later on Thursday, U.S. European Command head Gen. Tod Wolters said he hopes the talk will bring the two sides “one step closer to achieving a diplomatic solution” to end the war.  

 “I think what we all want the most is for diplomacy to come to the forefront,” Wolters told reporters following a meeting of NATO officials in Brussels.   

Read the story here 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The Atlantic Council will host a conversation with the Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Andriy Yermak at 9 a.m. 
  • The Centers for Strategic and International Studies will host a discussion entitled “International Norms Under Pressure: State Compliance with International Humanitarian & Human Rights Law” at 9:30 a.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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