Lawmakers look to get tough on Russia

Lawmakers look to get tough on Russia
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Russian aggression will be high on lawmakers' minds when the House Armed Services Committee meets Wednesday to mark up its annual defense policy bill.

Over the last two weeks, the Russians have buzzed a U.S. Navy destroyer, barrel rolled over a U.S. reconnaissance plane and warned the United States to steer clear of its territory.

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In response, committee members say there will be plenty in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act to deter Russia.

“We do have money to station troops in various parts of Eastern Europe, and that’s the main thing, to have a presence in the region and to show support for our allies,” said Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Energy: Pentagon report warns of climate threats to bases | Court halts offshore oil testing permits | Greens challenge federal drilling work during shutdown Overnight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Pentagon warns of threat to bases from climate change MORE (D-Wash.), ranking member of the committee.

Relations between Washington and Moscow have been tense since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Lawmakers have been arguing for stronger deterrence measures since then, and the events of the last two weeks put the spotlight back on Russia.

For two days in a row, Russian fighter jets made numerous, close-range fly-bys of the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea. U.S. officials labeled the moves unprofessional, provocative, and unsafe.

Days later, a Russian fighter jet barrel-rolled over a U.S. spy plane that was flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea.

This week, Russia placed the blame on the United States, warning the country not to operate near its territory. Russia has an exclave, Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania along the Baltic Sea.

"This is about attempts to exercise military pressure on Russia," Russian envoy to NATO Alexander Grushko told reporters after a NATO-Russia meeting. "We will take all necessary measures, precautions, to compensate for these attempts to use military force.”

At the top of lawmakers' measures against Russia in the National Defense Authorization Act is the European Reassurance Initiative, which is designed to provide aid to the militaries of European allies worried about Moscow's moves.

The bill would authorize $3.4 billion for the initiative, the same amount the administration requested and quadruple what the initiative got this year.

The bill also supports the National Commission on the Future of the Army’s recommendation to permanently station an armored brigade combat team in Europe, staffers said this week.

The Army already plans to send one brigade, but on a continuous rotation. A permanently stationed brigade, supporters say, would be a stronger deterrence.

The bill would also authorize $150 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which would help train and equip that country's military.

Republicans have long questioned the administration's reluctance to give Ukraine lethal weapons to counter Russia.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the committee, is also linking his acquisition reform efforts in the bill to efforts to counter Russia.

His proposal aims to make Pentagon buying faster and more cost effective by encouraging prototypes and open architecture on weapons platforms.

“A lot of the key in dealing with Russia - Russian and Chinese aggression, as well as Iranians and others - is we’ve got to get new capability into the hands of the war fighter faster,” he told reporters this week.

Members are also touting the additional aircraft, ships and other equipment the bill would authorize spending on as necessary to deter Russia.

Rep. Randy ForbesJames (Randy) Randy ForbesToo much ‘can do,’ not enough candor Trump makes little headway filling out Pentagon jobs Why there's only one choice for Trump's Navy secretary MORE (R-Va.), chairman of the seapower and projection forces subcommittee, heralded his subcommittee’s portion of the bill that would boost shipbuilding to $20.6 billion, the highest level since the Reagan era.

That would allow the Navy to get to 350 ships, up from the 272 it has now.

That, Forbes said, “is going to be vitally important to have the kind of presence we need so that we can start actually deterring some of this kind of aggression from happening.”

Forbes also successfully argued this week for an amendment in the bill that would require an Army report on the potential for intermediate-range ground-launched missiles. Those missiles are banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which Russia broke in 2014 by testing the missiles.

“The study gives us the necessary analysis that we’re going to need to look at the INF part of it, but also it sends a message out to them that there will be consequences if they continue to break this treaty,” he said.

But some are also wary that the measures will only intensify tensions with Russia.

Democrats expressed some concern over the missile study.

“This raises an alarm bell for me that we are moving down an additional path toward a nuclear arm race,” Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiPelosi pulls State of the Union surprise on Trump How Pelosi is punishing some critics while rewarding others Cicilline bows out of assistant leader race, paving path for Lujan MORE (D-Calif.) said at the subcommittee markup.

“I understand what you’re trying to accomplish here, but once again we are initiating a revival of a nuclear arms race. Maybe we’re already there.”