Russian build-up provides new impetus to send weapons to Ukraine

The bipartisan package — which would increase Pentagon security assistance to Ukraine to $350 million and shield $125 million of it from deadly weapons — comes amid concerns on both sides of the Atlantic that Russia’s latest military build-up may Ukrainian border could be different this time: a prelude to invasion.

From Capitol Hill, the Biden administration is increasingly called upon to act quickly to deter Russia, including by providing Ukraine with more weapons.

In September, the Biden administration announced a new $60 million arms and military aid deal with Kiev, including Javelin missiles and enhanced cooperation on cyber and research and development efforts. The pact increased US military aid to Kiev to about $400 million by 2022, underscoring growing concern in Washington over the lingering seven-year conflict.

Portman, co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, called for a vote on his and Shaheen’s measure. He also urged President Joe Biden to send more aid on top of the new delivery of a few Coast Guard patrol boats.

“I urge the administration to provide further assistance in the form [of] anti-air and anti-armor capabilities that will be vital to deter this latest Russian threat,” Portman said in a statement on Wednesday. “We must do everything we can to stay with our ally Ukraine at this time.”

Asked about the transfer of more lethal weapons, a senior administration official said the US “has demonstrated the willingness of the United States to use a number of tools to deal with damaging Russian actions and we will not hesitate to use those and other tools in the future.”

Ukrainian officials say about 92,000 Russian troops have taken up new positions near their borders, along with tanks, artillery and armed vehicles that could be used for a rapid offensive attack.

The Biden administration has been warning European allies of Moscow’s intentions for weeks, sharing intelligence and huddles with military officials across the continent. Both the EU and NATO have also expressed concerns about the new build. The Kremlin has withdrawn, saying the presence of NATO troops in Ukraine poses a threat to Russian security.

On Tuesday, two converted former US Coast Guard patrol boats arrived at the port of Odessa on the Black Sea, a delivery intended to support Ukraine’s small navy as it faces growing Russian activity near its shores. “We appreciate the United States’ contribution to deterring the Russian Federation’s armed aggression against Ukraine,” naval commander Oleksiy Neyizhpapa said in a statement.

The Defense Department originally asked for $250 million for Ukraine’s Security Assistance Initiative, the Pentagon’s main cash pot used to arm the country, in its 2022 fiscal budget.

Increased financial support to Ukraine has deep, bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Competing defense policy bills in the House and Senate would already push the bill to $300 million.

Portman and Shaheen want to green up even more aid. Their change would increase the total bill to $350 million, an increase of $100 million from Biden’s request. That money would go to weapons, raising the minimum amount for lethal aid from $75 million to $125 million.

The increase would be offset by reducing allowed Senate funding to train and equip Afghanistan’s now-defunct armed forces. The Senate Armed Forces Committee approved the bill, along with security assistance to Afghanistan, in July, ahead of the Taliban takeover of the country.

However, the Defense Policy Act does not allocate money and would have to be matched in the annual credit legislation to become a reality. And lawmakers aren’t expected to smooth over a compromise proposal until late next month.

Senators dwell on amendments to the bill to be passed. Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (DR.I.) sought an agreement last week to vote on 19 amendments, including the Portman-Shaheen measure. But Reed was blocked by several GOP senators seeking votes on their own amendments.

The Senate will hold a procedural vote to curtail debate on the defense clearance bill when it returns Monday. There is still time for Democrats and Republicans to work out their differences and include more amendments in the bill before it is passed, but the proposal for Ukraine could be shelved if the blockade continues.

Members of Congress have flirted with the idea of ​​including language in the 2022 defense bill that would transfer one of the US military’s two Iron Dome air defense batteries to Ukraine, though the complex system wouldn’t be ready for months, even if the provision would be included .

The latest proposals for the arming of the Ukrainians are part of a seven-year debate in Washington and Europe’s capitals on how to stop Russia from moving beyond the territory it has already conquered from Crimea and eastern Ukraine during his invasion in 2014.

The war in eastern Ukraine has since evolved into a series of sporadic artillery duels amid largely static lines in Donbas, leaving the situation in a protracted crisis that neither side has been able to resolve.

In June, after about 100,000 Russian troops gathered at the border, POLITICO reported that the Biden administration had put together a $100 million military aid package for Ukraine, though it was later suspended after the Russians partially withdrew to their home base. Under consideration were short-range air defense systems, small arms and anti-tank weapons, deviating from the non-lethal weapons supplied by the Biden administration in two other packages.

NATO’s top military officer, Admiral Rob Bauer, said in an interview on the sidelines of a security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Saturday that the build-up of Russian troops and equipment at the border is part of a larger campaign.

“There is other evidence in terms of other cyber-domain activity in activities in Ukraine that most likely have the intent to destabilize Ukraine,” Bauer said. “And so it’s not just the troops that are there, but it’s a combination of everything, including the rhetoric of the Russians” that is sounding the alarm in Brussels.

On Wednesday, the US embassy in Kiev issued a new warning to US citizens not to travel near the Ukrainian borders due to “reports of unusual Russian military activity near the Ukrainian borders and in occupied Crimea”.

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