Defense & National Security — US military aid to Ukraine hits $20 billion
The Pentagon on Friday announced another $275 million in weapons and equipment for Ukraine, pushing the amount of military aid committed to Kyiv under Biden to nearly $20 billion — with most since Russia first attacked the country.
We’ll share what’s in the latest package plus what the White House is warning about deepening military ties between Russia and Iran.
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 Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Sign up here or in the box below.
US sending another $275M in aid to Ukraine
The latest $275 million package for Ukraine will include more ammunition for high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), 80,000 155 mm artillery rounds, counter-unmanned aerial systems equipment, counter air defenses, additional High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, ambulances and medical equipment, 150 generators and other field equipment, according to a Defense Department release.
Restock: There are no major new weapons included in the latest U.S. lethal aid package, with the aid instead meant to restock systems already in Ukraine, including HIMARS, as well as bolster its air defenses.
“This security assistance package will provide Ukraine with new capabilities to boost its air defenses in addition to providing critical equipment that Ukraine is using so effectively to defend itself on the battlefield,” the release stated.
Adding up: The United States has now committed about $19.3 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the start of the war in February and about $20 billion since the beginning of the Biden administration.
The latest aid tranche comes as Russia has been bombarding Ukrainian civilian infrastructure and energy grids as winter settles in, though on the ground fighting between Ukrainian and Russian troops is expected to slow.
White House warns of deepening Russia, Iran ties
The White House on Friday warned Russia and Iran are laying the groundwork for joint weapons production, citing U.S. intelligence surrounding Moscow and Tehran’s deepening military ties.
The warning comes as Russia has sourced explosive drones from Iran for use in Ukraine, targeting the country’s energy and electricity infrastructure; striking residential buildings, parks and streets; and killing and injuring civilians.
A new production line: National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Friday that Moscow and Tehran “are considering the establishment of a joint production line for lethal drones in Russia.”
Unnamed Western officials have reportedly observed that Russia has depleted its drone stockpiles.
Seeking resupply: A public British intelligence assessment said drone strikes had stopped being reported since around Nov. 17, adding that Russia “has likely very nearly exhausted its current stock but will probably seek resupply.”
Aspirations: Kirby, in a briefing with reporters, said Russia has aspirations to work on a joint production line with Iran but that the U.S. does not have insight into how Iranians are weighing a decision to participate.
- “As we get more information and more fidelity on all that that we can share with you, we will,” Kirby said.
- One benefit for Iran, Kirby added, is that Russia is prepared to offer Iran “an unprecedented level of military and technical support,” which could include Russia providing Iran with advanced military components.
A warning: While the U.S. and outside experts say they have not seen any indication Russia is helping Iran with its nuclear program, Kirby warned that the deepening military ties between Russia and Iran are leading to “a full-fledged defense partnership.”
“What I want to convey to everybody is the forest in front of us, which is a deepening and a burgeoning defense partnership, nearly full-fledged here, between Russia and Iran,” he said.
Jan. 6 panel considering criminal referrals: reports
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection is considering making criminal referrals to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for former President Trump and at least four other individuals, multiple outlets reported Thursday.
CNN first reported that the Jan. 6 committee is weighing making recommendations to the DOJ that it launch criminal investigations or file charges against Trump, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, attorney John Eastman, former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark and former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
The committee has not decided whom to refer to the department for prosecution and for what possible charges, multiple sources told CNN.
Bloomberg also reported that the committee is considering referrals for those five individuals, citing a person familiar with the matter.
The reports come after Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told reporters on Thursday that the committee will release its list of criminal referrals and its final report on the attack on Dec. 21. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the committee, told reporters that the members were still deciding who should be included in the list.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), another member, told CNN that there is “consensus” among the members on the referrals.
The referrals would not be binding, and the DOJ would make the ultimate decision on whether to charge anyone.
US blacklists Chinese company over human rights
The Biden administration on Friday announced sanctions against a Chinese company listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange, saying Pingtan Marine Enterprises Ltd. engaged in “illegal, unreported and unregulated” fishing that contributing to grave human rights abuses.
Pingtan was one of two companies hit with U.S. sanctions, along with two business officials.
- The Treasury Department also named 157 fishing vessels that sail under the flag of the People’s Republic of China that are associated with the sanctioned companies and individuals.
- “Treasury condemns the practices of those sanctioned today, which often involve the abuse of human rights, undermine fundamental labor and environmental standards, and harm the economic prospects of local populations in the Indo-Pacific,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson said in a statement.
Treasury laid out a series of allegations, including that one of the sanctioned companies was involved in illegal shark finning, taking nearly 1,550 lbs. of fins, including from endangered sharks.
Pingtan specifically received a $19 million subsidy from the Chinese government in 2021 to develop its deep water fishing industry “to satisfy China’s demand for seafood,” Treasury said.
Vessels with the company were found to have illegally transshipped 6,600 shark carcasses, including from endangered species, through the protected waters of the Galapagos Marine Reserve, Treasury said.
Treasury described the working conditions for crew on the vessels as miserable, with extreme isolation and reports of physical violence and forced labor.
Treasury said one ship, operating under the Dalian Ocean Fishing Co. (DOF), the other company sanctioned, saw five crew members die, with three bodies being dumped into the ocean “rather than repatriated home.”
- “When the surviving crewmembers returned home, they were diagnosed with malnutrition and received only a fraction of their promised pay,” Treasury said. “They have since described deceptive recruiting practices, the confiscation of identity documents, punishing work, and physical abuse.”
- Treasury also sanctioned Xinrong Zhuo, whom it identified as the founder and chairman of Pingtan Marine Enterprise Ltd., and Li Zhenyum, listed as the chairman and general manager of the DOF.
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