Washington — President Biden on Thursday called on Congress to provide $33 billion in additional security, economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine and unveiled a legislative proposal aimed at bolstering the federal government's ability to hold the Russian government accountable for the invasion.
"The cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen," the president said in remarks 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 president said it is "critical" that Congress approve his $33 billion request "as quickly as possible."
The latest request from the White House is far higher than the $13.6 billion for Ukraine that Congress included in a broader, $1.5 trillion omnibus spending billlast month. Mr. Biden stressed Thursday he has almost exhausted the $3.5 billion in drawdown authority authorized for Ukraine in the bipartisan spending package.
"That's why today, in order to sustain Ukraine as it continues to fight, I'm sending Congress a supplemental budget request," he said. "It's going to keep weapons and ammunitions flowing without interruption to the brave Ukrainian fighters and continue delivering economic and humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainian people."
Of the $33 billion requested, $20.4 billion would go to additional security and military assistance, providing Ukraine and Eastern flank allies with more artillery, armored vehicles and anti-armor and anti-air capabilities, according to the White House.
An additional $8.5 billion in economic assistance would go toward keeping Ukraine's government functions continuing and countering Russian disinformation, while $3 billion in humanitarian assistance would support resources to address worldwide food security needs, which experts warn could be exacerbated by the war.
"Putin's war, not sanctions, are impacting the harvest of food and disrupting the movement of that food by land and sea to nations around the globe that need it," Mr. Biden said, noting that as a large agricultural producer, Ukraine grows 10% of the wheat shipped worldwide.
To address domestic food production, the White House's supplemental funding request includes $500 million to support production of U.S. crops experiencing a global shortage because of the conflict. It would also allow the administration to use the Defense Production Act to expand domestic production of key minerals and materials such as nickel and lithium necessary to make a wide array of products.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday that passing Ukraine funding and approving another round of COVID-19 pandemic relief demands "swift and bipartisan action." But it's unclear how quickly the request will move through the Senate, as aon COVID support has over immigration and border policy. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, said he is supportive of the $33 billion proposal.
Mr. Biden again called for Congress to act onin additional coronavirus funding, warning without it, the U.S. risks losing access future vaccines to protect against new variants and dwindling its supply for therapeutics and treatments.
"They can do it separately or together, but we need them both," the president said of Congress approving his requests for COVID and Ukraine assistance.
The White House said Mr. Biden's proposal for a comprehensive legislative package targeting the Russian government and oligarchs "will establish new authorities for the forfeiture of property linked to Russian kleptocracy, allow the government to use the proceeds to support Ukraine, and further strengthen related law enforcement tools."
The multi-pronged plan would streamline the administrative authority to seize and forfeit assets from oligarchs; enable the transfer of proceeds from forfeited property to Ukraine as redress for Russia's war; allow for the forfeiture of property used by oligarchs to evade sanctions; bolster the U.S.'s ability to investigate and prosecute sanctions evasion; extend the statute of limitations to pursue money laundering prosecutions from five years to 10 years; and improve the government's ability to work with foreign partners to recover assets tied to foreign corruption.
"All these actions we've been taking are about this truth: investing in Ukraine's freedom and security is a small price to pay to punish Russian aggression to lesson the risk of future conflicts," Mr. Biden said. "Our unity at home, our unity with our allies and partners, our unity with the Ukrainian people is sending an unmistakable message to Putin: You will never succeed in dominating Ukraine."
Over the course of its nine-week war in Ukraine, Russian forces have suffered setbacks, failing to capture the capital of Kyiv, but entered a new phase of the invasion, turning its attention to Ukraine's eastern industrial region.
The General Staff of Ukraine's military said Thursday that Russian troops were "exerting intense fire" around Donetsk and near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city. In the eastern Donbas region, a focus for Russia, the General Staff said Ukrainian forces have fought back against six attacks.
Ihor Lapin, Ukrainian special forces battalion commander,that his forces need high-caliber ammunition to go up against Russia's firepower.
The U.S. has continued to flow weapons systems and munitions systems into Ukraine, with more than 60% of the howitzers the U.S. has committed delivered, a U.S. senior defense official said Thursday. More than 50 Ukrainian fighters have also finished training on the howitzers in a country outside of Ukraine, and a second group began training Wednesday, the defense official said. Ukrainian forces are also being trained on air-defense radar systems provided by the U.S. and M113 armored vehicles outside Ukraine.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinkento Kyiv on Sunday, becoming the highest-level U.S. officials to visit the capital since the start of Russia's war. During their meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, they vowed to provide more military financing.
Sara Cook and Ellee Watson contributed to this report.