The Pentagon has notified Congress that Ukraine’s government has made the necessary progress on key institutional reforms, thereby justifying an additional $125 million in new military assistance, including patrol boats armed with remote-controlled 30mm autocannons, according to a US defense official and a congressional aide.
That certification that Kiev was making progress in countering corruption, improving transparency and boosting civilian oversight was required by law to permit the assistance package moving forward. The package is the second half of the $250 million in Ukraine Security Assistance that was appropriated by Congress in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday on the assistance, citing a department policy of not commenting on arms packages that are under congressional review.
The new assistance package includes mobile radar systems designed to detect and track incoming artillery and rocket fire, dozens of ambulances, secure communications equipment, including 100 “tactical tablets” and the two patrol boats, the latter of which is seen as particularly important given Ukraine’s tensions with Russia in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
In 2018, Russian forces seized three Ukrainian vessels and captured 24 Ukrainian sailors following a clash in the Kerch Strait which connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov and is the sole access route for ships travelling to Ukraine’s eastern port cities.
The Sea of Azov has a maximum depth of only 14 meters and is therefore much too shallow for most warships to operate, making it the ideal environment for the Mark VI-type patrol boats to operate in.
Russia seized and annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and tensions between Kiev and Moscow in the region remain high. Ukraine’s government accused Russia Wednesday of continuing to act aggressively in the region during a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
“The representative of Ukraine noted that Russia hinders navigation in the Azov-Black Sea region under contrived pretexts, which is a gross violation of international maritime law. Intensive militarization of the Sea of Azov continues,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.
“Such a destructive policy of the Russian Federation has negative consequences not only for Ukraine and other countries of the Black Sea basin, but also for the wider region,” the statement added.
The Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative was thrust into the spotlight after the Trump administration froze security assistance to Ukraine after it was notified to Congress, an action that led the House of Representatives to impeach President Donald Trump.
The articles of impeachment said the Trump administration blocked the previous aid tranche to Ukraine in an effort to get Kiev to investigate an energy company linked to the Biden family. Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden and Joe Biden, his potential political rival, were at the center of the impeachment trial.
Trump has repeatedly made unfounded and false claims to allege that the Bidens acted improperly in Ukraine. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.
Trump was acquitted by a vote in the Senate.
The White House has offered shifting and vague accounts of why the hold was implemented and what triggered Trump to ultimately change course and release the money.
Trump administration officials at times cited corruption in Ukraine as justification for freezing the aid, though that justification was undermined by the Pentagon’s certification at the time that Kiev was making progress in combating corruption.
The official who provided that certification, John Rood, then the Pentagon’s under secretary of defense for policy, was ousted shortly after Trump’s acquittal impeachment vote.
The nonpartisan congressional watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, conducted a review which found that the Trump administration broke the law when it withheld US security aid to Ukraine last year that had been appropriated by Congress.
The GAO said that the White House budget office violated the Impoundment Control Act, a 1974 law that limits the White House from withholding funds that Congress has appropriated.
Almost all of the past US ambassadors to Ukraine on Tuesday urged against Ukraine being used as a cudgel in domestic politics, particularly during an election year.
“We have worked over the years to build and strengthen the US-Ukrainian strategic partnership established in 1996,” wrote retired Ambassadors Roman Popadiuk, Steven Pifer, Carlos Pascual, John Herbst, Bill Taylor, John Tefft and Marie Yovanovitch.
“We thus are disheartened by efforts to inject Ukraine into America’s domestic politics as the 2020 US presidential election approaches,” they said in a joint statement released by the Atlantic Council. “Those efforts advance a false and toxic narrative, one with no basis in the reality of US-Ukraine relations, in order to weaken the relationship between the United States and Ukraine and sow division within our two countries.”
The statement did not specifically say the efforts to which they were referring.