The House Armed Services Committee leadership drafted a bill this week that would push the president to supply Ukraine with up to $1 billion in lethal military aid to protect itself against Russian-backed separatists, after the president has so far failed to do so under authority in last year’s defense bill.
The idea of the bill is simple: “we believe more aid should be given, and more of it should be military so they can better defend themselves,” HASC Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters Tuesday evening. The Russian economy has “been deeply, deeply wounded” by the Obama administration’s economic sanctions, but “it has not at all changed President Putin’s calculus,” Smith said.
The bill would authorize the defense secretary, in consultation with the secretary of state, to “provide assistance, including training, equipment, lethal weapons of a defensive nature, logistics support, supplies and services, and sustainment to the military and national security forces of Ukraine.” The bill notes the goal is to help Ukraine protect its territorial integrity and to pave the way for “a negotiated settlement to end the conflict.”
“It seems that Russia has decided to go back to the Cold War, to view it as a zero-sum game, East versus West,” Smith said. “And regrettably there are a number of countries in that part of the world that have Russian populations, and if [the Russians] wind up being able to get what they want out of Ukraine, what happens next? What happens to Estonia or Poland or other places?”
In the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress gave the president authority to aid Ukraine, but so far President Barack Obama has only sent blankets, night-vision goggles and other non-lethal aid.
“I’m not sure we can force a president to do something like this completely against his will if he is totally opposed,” HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters of providing lethal aid, including anti-tank weapons and defensive radars to help identify where incoming fire is originating from. “On the other hand, I think what you’re seeing is a consensus of opinion–on the Hill, off the Hill, in the United States at least–that we ought to help these people defend themselves, and I think that becomes pretty powerful” as Obama plans his next move.
Smith said the bill would likely become part of the FY ’16 NDAA. That means the bill would be unlikely to have an immediate impact, since the NDAA is typically passed by the House in May but does not get Senate consideration and a final vote on compromise language until December.
“I would be supportive of doing it as an individual bill, frankly neither one of us really control that,” Smith said.
Thornberry jumped in to add, “we’ll see, because I think there is a huge amount of bipartisan support for allowing Ukrainians to defend themselves. So it may well be the kind of thing that stands on its own.”
“It is consistent with what all of the think tanks, former Obama administration, former [Supreme Allied Commanders of Europe] have just recommended,” he continued. “They recommended a billion dollars a year for three years; as [Smith] said, we budget in one-year increments, so I think a billion dollars makes sense. It can darn sure help the Ukrainians a lot to defend themselves.”
Thornberry said he hadn’t talked to his Senate counterparts about how they might pass similar legislation, but he noted strong bipartisan support for aiding Ukraine in both the House and Senate.