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Hear from Ukrainians living amid Russian shelling
03:41 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

President Joe Biden on Thursday asked Congress for a $33 billion supplemental funding bill aimed at supporting Ukraine over the next several months as Russia’s brutal and unrelenting war enters a new phase.

In another significant request, Biden outlined a proposal that would further pressure Russian oligarchs over the war in Ukraine, including using money from their seized assets to fund Ukraine’s defense.

The size and scope of the President’s latest proposed package comes as his administration prepares to provide long-term support to Ukraine as Russia’s invasion of the nation stretches into its third month. The package is significantly larger than the other packages that have been put forward, and is more than twice as much as the $13.6 billion infusion of military and humanitarian aid that Congress approved last month.

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

He added, “We need this bill to support Ukraine in this fight for freedom.”

The massive proposal comes as Russia refocuses its campaign to seize new territory in the country’s eastern region. The President said last week Russia’s war has entered a “critical window,” making western military aid all the more essential.

The $33 billion request includes $20.4 billion requested for military and security assistance, including $5 billion in additional drawdown authorities, $6 billion for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and $4 billion for the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing Program, a senior administration official told reporters ahead of Biden’s remarks.

The President added that the new package would provide more artillery, armored vehicles, anti-armor systems and anti-aircraft capabilities to the Ukrainian military, as well as humanitarian assistance, including food, water, medicine and shelter to Ukrainians displaced by the war.

The goal of the funding is to both address the immediate needs of the Ukrainian military and Ukrainian people as well as help the nation “transition to longer-term security systems,” Biden said.

The President said the US was working with other nations – including Korea, Japan and Qatar – to support European allies being threatened by Russia “with gas blackmail,” in order to help the countries get their energy needs met. Russia has started to suspend natural gas supplies to certain European countries after they rejected Putin’s ultimatum to pay in rubles, rather than euros.

“We will not let Russia intimidate or blackmail their way out of these sanctions. We will not allow them to use their oil and gas to avoid consequences for their aggression,” Biden said.

Billions in aid for Ukraine’s defense

The official said a portion of the $20 billion in military assistance could be used to backfill contributions of munitions and equipment from other countries, allowing those countries to “be able to defend themselves fully.”

Also included in the request is $8.5 billion in economic assistance “to help the government of Ukraine respond to the immediate crisis and continue to provide basic services to the Ukrainian people,” the official said. A fact sheet from the White House suggested that funding would also help counter Russian disinformation and propaganda narratives and support independent media.

Additional humanitarian assistance and food security funding will be included as well, to the tune of $3 billion, including “wheat and other commodities” for those in need, per the official. Part of that funding will go to job training, mental health services and resources for US school districts to help support Ukrainians arriving in the US and other efforts to support Ukrainian refugees and the countries providing them sanctuary.

It also includes targeted funding “to address economic disruptions at home and around the world due to Putin’s aggression,” which will help increase US production of food crops like soybeans, as well as funding to allow the use of the Defense Production Act to expand US production of critical reserves of minerals and other materials disrupted by the war.

“It’s going to help support American farmers produce more crops like wheat and oil seed, which is good for rural America, good for the American consumer and good for the world,” Biden said.

The President announced last week the US would send an additional $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine. The President said the package included heavy artillery weapons, dozens of howitzers – longer-range weapons – and 144,000 rounds of ammo for those howitzers and more tactical drones.

The US had earlier this month announced another roughly $800 million security assistance package. That package included Mi-17 helicopters, Switchblade drones, protective equipment to guard against chemical attacks, Javelin anti-tank missiles, M113 armored personnel carriers, counter-artillery radars and body armor and helmets.

Holding Russian oligarchs to account

The President said another one of his proposals would strengthen US law enforcement capabilities to seize property linked to Russia’s kleptocracy.

“It’s going to create new expedited procedures for forfeiture and seizure of these properties and it’s going to ensure that when the oligarchs assets are sold off, funds can be used directly to remedy the harm Russia caused and help rebuild Ukraine,” Biden said.

The package – developed through an interagency process including the Treasury Department, Justice Department, State Department and Commerce Department – 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 White House said in a fact sheet.

One element of the package would streamline the federal government’s efforts for seizing the assets of Russian oligarchs by creating a new administrative process through Treasury and the Justice Department “for the forfeiture of property in the United States that is owned by sanctioned Russian oligarchs and that has a connection to specified unlawful conduct.” It would make it a criminal offense for people to “knowingly or intentionally possess proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government.”

The proposal would also help direct proceeds from “forfeited funds related to corruption, sanctions and export control violations, and other specified offenses to remediate harms of Russian aggression toward Ukraine,” with the Justice Department, Treasury and State working together on these efforts. Earlier this week, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Biden administration would support legislation allowing for some of the proceeds from assets the DOJ seizes from Russian oligarchs “to go directly to Ukraine.”

The proposed package would allow for “forfeiture of property that Russian oligarchs can use to facilitate the evasion of sanctions,” a shift from the current US law which only allows for the US to forfeit the proceeds of sanctions violations. It also would categorize sanctions evasion as “racketeering activity,” extend the statute of limitations for pursuing money laundering prosecutions based on foreign offense from five to 10 years, and would enhance the US ability to work with allies and partners to recover assets linked to foreign corruption.

Officials said the Department of Justice has the authority to seize assets involved in criminal wrongdoing. They said they were seeking from Congress an “expanded and expedited administrative process” that would allow for the forfeiture of property.

People with an interest in the property will be able to conduct judicial review and other safeguards to ensure due process, but the first official said the administration feels “confident” the set-up will satisfy constitutional requirements.

While members have agreed that more money for Ukraine is necessary, it’s still not clear how the supplemental would move swiftly through Congress nor is it clear how quickly this proposal on oligarchs could move. A likely path would be to tie the two pieces of legislation together, but Republican and Democratic leaders are in the early stages of talks on how to pass the broader funding for Ukraine.

Asked whether the Ukraine funding should move alongside new money for the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, a second official said, “it certainly makes sense for them to move together,” but declined to get ahead of the legislative process. Biden said he doesn’t care if his administration’s requests for Covid funding and aid to Ukraine are tied together or in separate pieces of legislation as long as Congress approves both.

“I don’t care how they tie – how they do it,” Biden told reporters on Thursday. “I’m sending them both up. I mean, I they can do it separately or together, but we need them both.”

However, his letter to Congress requesting the Ukraine funding suggested that the Covid assistance and Ukraine support be tied together: “To avoid needless deaths in the United States and around the world, I urge the Congress to include this much needed, life-saving Covid funding as part of this supplemental funding request,” the letter states.

This story has been updated with additional information.