WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday for an additional $33 billion for new powers to seize and repurpose the assets of Russian oligarchs to aid Ukrainian forces in the fight against Russia.
Biden’s latest proposal — which the officials said was expected to last for five months — includes more than $20 billion in military assistance for Ukraine and for bolstering defenses in nearby countries. Also, $8.5 billion in economic aid to help keep Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government functioning and $3 billion for food and humanitarian programs to help civilians and other spending.
The assistance package, which now heads to Congress for consideration, would be more than twice as large as an initial $13.6 billion of defense and economic aid for Ukraine and Western allies that Congress enacted last month and is now almost exhausted. It was meant to signify that the U.S. is not tiring of helping to stave off Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to expand his nation’s control of its neighbor, and perhaps beyond. As Russia steps up its assault in Ukraine’s East, the Biden administration says the need for more aid is urgent.
“The cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is going to be more costly,” Biden said from the Roosevelt Room. “It’s critical this funding gets approved and as quickly as possible.”
The request comes with the fighting, now in its ninth week, sharpening in eastern and southern parts of the country and international tensions growing as Russia cuts off gas supplies to two NATO allies, Poland and Bulgaria.
Biden promised that the U.S. would work to support its allies’ energy needs, saying, “We will not let Russia intimidate or blackmail their way out of the sanctions.”
Biden said the new package “begins the transition to longer-term security assistance” for Ukraine.
“We need to contribute arms, funding ammunition and the economic support to make their courage and sacrifice have purpose so they can continue this fight and do what they’re doing,” Biden said.
There is wide, bipartisan support in Congress for giving Ukraine all the help it needs to fight the Russians, and its eventual approval of assistance seems certain. But Biden and congressional Democrats also want lawmakers to approve billions more to battle the pandemic, and that along with a Republican push to entangle the measure with an extension of some Trump-era immigration restrictions leaves the proposal’s pathway to enactment unclear.
Biden also asked lawmakers to include an additional $22.5 billion for vaccines, treatments, testing and aid to other countries in continuing efforts to contain COVID-19, saying “we’re running out of supply for therapeutics.”
But that figure, which Biden also requested last month, seems aspirational at best. In a compromise with Republicans, Senate Democrats have already agreed to pare that figure to $10 billion, and reviving the higher amount would be at best an uphill fight.
Biden said he had no preference for whether lawmakers combined the virus funding with the Ukraine package or split them up. “They can do it separately or together,” Biden said, “but we need them both.”
Biden also asked Congress for new powers to seize and repurpose the assets of Russian oligarchs, saying the U.S. was seizing luxury yachts and homes of “bad guys.”
He wants lawmakers to make it a criminal offense for a person to “knowingly or intentionally possess proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government,” double the statute of limitations for foreign money laundering offenses to 10 years and expand the definition of “racketeering” under U.S. law to include efforts to evade sanctions.
Biden also asked Congress to allow the federal government to use the proceeds from selling the seized assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs to help the people of Ukraine.
The remarks follow more threats from Putin, who warns of “lightning-fast” retaliation against any Western countries that intervene on Ukraine’s behalf. The fighting picked up pace after Russia suddenly cut off natural gas to two NATO nations, in what was seen as a bid to punish and divide the West over its support for Ukraine ahead of the potentially pivotal battle in the eastern industrial region of the Donbas.
Ukraine has urged its allies to send even more military equipment so it can continue its fight.
Biden’s new ask comes as he announced plans last week to send an additional $800 million in military aid to help Ukraine. The military assistance package includes much-needed heavy artillery, 144,000 rounds of ammunition and drones for Ukrainian forces in the escalating battle for the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. It builds on roughly $2.6 billion in military assistance that Biden had previously approved for Ukraine.
Biden made it clear Thursday that this support for Ukraine isn’t an escalation of the war.
“We’re not attacking Russia. We’re helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression,” he said.
This story is developing. Refresh for updates.