POLITICS

'This fight is not cheap': Biden's biggest aid request yet heads to Congress, along with sanctions plan

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is asking Congress for another $33 billion to help Ukraine resist Russia's invasion and provide humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian people.

The proposal, which the White House will send to lawmakers on Thursday, includes $20 billion in additional security and military assistance for Ukraine, another $8 billion for economic assistance and $3 billion in humanitarian aid.

The administration said it also will seek authority to streamline the process for seizure of sanctioned Russian assets and use the proceeds from those assets to be used to help Ukraine in its war with Russia.

“The cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we let it happen," Biden said from the White House. “We either back the Ukrainian people as they defend their country, or we stand by as the Russians continue their atrocities and aggression in Ukraine."

The funding request, which comes as the war is in its ninth week, would more than double the $13.6 billion package of defense and economic aid for Ukraine and Western allies that Congress passed last month. Biden has nearly exhausted that aid.

Congress gets requests for Ukraine aid, COVID aid 

Although there is bipartisan support among lawmakers and Americans for helping Ukraine, passing the next aid package could be complicated. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he would tie additional Ukraine aid to a COVID-19 relief package to try to force both through. Congress was unable to pass COVID-19 relief funds before heading out to recess earlier this month.

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Russian bombardment reduced a building to rubble in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

The $20 billion the administration is seeking in additional security and military assistance will be used to put equipment into the hands of Ukraine's military and police and help NATO defend against Russia in the long run, according to a fact sheet provided by the White House.

The additional assistance will keep more artillery, armored vehicles and other equipment flowing without interruption to Ukraine in the critical weeks and months ahead, Biden said.

The economic assistance will be used to help the Ukrainian government respond to the crisis caused by Russia’s invasion and to continue to provide basic services to its citizens, such as food, energy and health care. Some funding will go toward countering Russian disinformation, supporting agrobusinesses during the fall harvest and purchasing natural gas by the Ukrainian state energy company.

The $3 billion in humanitarian assistance will be used to address food security needs around the globe, provide wheat and other commodities to people in need and provide aid to people displaced by or otherwise impacted by the war.

An additional $500 million in domestic food production assistance will be used to support the production of U.S. crops, such as wheat and soybeans, that are experiencing a global shortage because of the war in Ukraine.

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Streamlining sanctions

As for the seizure of Russian assets, the administration said the new streamlined process would involve the Departments of the Treasury and Justice to forfeit property in the United States that is owned by Russian oligarchs that the U.S. has sanctioned.

In addition, Biden is asking to create a new criminal offense that makes it unlawful for any person to knowingly or intentionally possess proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government.

The United States and allies across the world have sanctioned 21 members of the Russian Security Council and other Putin associates have been sanctioned, along with the 140 oligarchs and Kremlin officials.

The White House is also asking for authority to use forfeited oligarch funds to “remediate harms caused to Ukraine by Russian aggression.”

"We're going to seize their yachts and luxury homes and other ill-gotten-gains of Putin's kleptocracy," Biden said. Then, "when the oligarch's assets are sold off, the funds can be used directly to remedy the harm Russia caused and help build Ukraine."

At a House budget hearing Thursday, Attorney General Merrick Garland urged lawmakers to approve the administration’s Ukraine aid package.

Garland said the new White House proposal would support the Justice Department’s KleptoCapture Task Force operation designed to “dismantle Russian criminal networks, and freeze, seize, and forfeit Kleptocrat assets.”

The attorney general said the package would provide authority for Justice to “to transfer the proceeds of forfeited Russian assets directly to Ukraine to remediate the harms of Russia’s aggression.”

“They would close loopholes in our sanctions and forfeiture law.  And they would allow us to help the people of Ukraine in what is their most dire hour,” he told lawmakers.

Michael Collins and Rebecca Morin cover the White House. Follow Collins on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS and Morin @RebeccaMorin_.

Contributing: Joey Garrison, Kevin Johnson

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