a year ago

Biden seeks $33 billion for Ukraine, a massive jump in funding

US President Joe Biden during a speech in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, US, April 21, 2022 – Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein
US President Joe Biden during a speech in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, US, April 21, 2022 – Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

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President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday for $33 billion to support Ukraine - a dramatic escalation of US funding for the war against Russia - as well as new legal tools to siphon assets from Russian oligarchs, Reuters reports.

The vast funding request includes over $20 billion for weapons, ammunition and other military assistance, as well as $8.5 billion in direct economic assistance to the government and $3 billion in humanitarian and food security aid.

"We need this bill to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom," Biden said at the White House. "The cost of this fight - it's not cheap - but caving to aggression is going to be more costly."

Biden is also seeking the ability to seize more money from Russian oligarchs to pay for the war effort.

His proposal would have lawmakers hand his administration new capabilities, letting US officials seize more oligarchs' assets, give the cash from those seizures to Ukraine and further criminalise sanctions dodging, the White House said.

The steps include letting the Justice Department use the strict US racketeering law once deployed against the mafia, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, to build cases against people who evade sanctions.

Biden also wants to give prosecutors more time to build such cases by extending the statute of limitations on money laundering prosecutions to 10 years, instead of five. He would also make it a criminal act to hold money knowingly taken from corrupt dealings with Russia, according to a summary of the proposals.

The measures are part of US efforts to isolate and punish Russia for its Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine, as well as to help Kyiv recover from a war that has reduced cities to rubble and forced more than 5 million people to flee abroad.

The new request represents the full amount US officials expect to need through September, the end of the fiscal year.

US military aid to Ukraine alone has topped $3 billion since Russia launched what it calls a "special military operation" to demilitarise and remove fascists in Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies reject that as a false pretext.

The United States and its European allies have frozen $30 billion of assets held by wealthy individuals with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including yachts, helicopters, real estate and art, the Biden administration has said.

Members of Congress from both parties have been supportive of efforts to boost Ukraine. The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a largely symbolic bill to urging Biden to sell off Russian frozen assets.

But Republican congressional aides said after receiving the supplemental proposal that, while they generally supported aid to Ukraine, efforts to combine it with the fresh funding Biden also wants for the COVID-19 response could make it difficult to pass.

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