Congress approved $300M for Ukraine last week. The Pentagon spent it 4 months ago.


When Congress approved $300 million to arm Ukraine late last week, it marked the first time lawmakers have approved new funding for Kyiv’s war effort in more than a year.

There’s just one problem: The money is already gone.

The cash, allocated to the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, was included in a $1.2 trillion government funding package signed by President Joe Biden on Saturday. But the money was actually obligated in November while the Pentagon was operating under a temporary continuing resolution, an administration official said.

So while its passage might’ve marked a brief bipartisan win, it was essentially a symbolic move. That $300 million “is not available for us to use now,” said the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the dynamics of the budget.

The security assistance initiative puts money toward contracts for future deliveries of munitions and equipment for Ukraine. The Pentagon broadcast that it had depleted the account months ago, noting that a $300 million support package in November “exhausts the remaining USAI funds currently available to support Ukraine.”

Even if it were available, the money wouldn’t turn the tide of the war. Rather, it was a gesture from Washington that the U.S. isn’t out of the game, despite House Republican leadership holding up roughly $60 billion in military aid for months.

During that time, Ukraine’s counteroffensive sputtered out and its front-line units ran low on critical artillery shells and other munitions. And lawmakers told POLITICO the money won’t fix Ukraine’s immediate crisis.

“It shows a longer term commitment, and that’s a positive thing,” Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) said. “But the short term problem we have is that Ukrainians needed our support yesterday.”

Congress has appropriated funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative annually since Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. That funding is separate from the process of transferring existing weapons from U.S. inventories directly to the front lines, known as presidential drawdown authority, which officials have used to rush equipment to the battlefield. After a transfer, lawmakers must then provide the Pentagon with money to buy new replacement equipment.

USAI money, by contrast, has been used for longer-term needs. Big-ticket items purchased since the 2022 full-scale Russian invasion include Abrams tanks and Patriot air defense systems.

In the meantime, the White House and Pentagon leaders have warned for months that both pools of funding have dried up and scaled-back efforts to send Kyiv more weapons, ammo and equipment. The U.S. recently scraped together a separate $300 million package of missiles, ammo and other weapons for Ukraine using Army contract savings.

The only solution from here, administration officials argue, is for the House to pass tens of billions of dollars worth of new assistance.

“DOD has repeatedly urged Congress to pass a supplemental to support Ukraine in its time of need and to replenish our stocks,” Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Charlie Dietz said. “For Ukraine, this supplemental is vital — there’s no other way to meet Ukraine’s needs at scale.”

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on Friday said a Russian missile attack on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure that day underscored the need to restart aid. Kirby said it is “vital [that] we continue to provide Ukraine with air defense systems and capabilities.”

“Mr. Putin is not waiting. He’s not sitting on his hands,” Kirby said. “He’s making lethal use of every single minute available to him while our own Congress refuses to act. He’s not wavering, and neither should we.”

A broader aid package for Ukraine will have to wait until April now that Congress is recessed for two weeks.

Despite a wide bipartisan Senate vote more than a month ago to pass a $95 billion package to assist Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, Speaker Mike Johnson has dodged a vote on Ukraine aid. The Louisiana Republican has insisted that fiscal 2024 appropriations must be finished first. With that bridge crossed last week, bipartisan pressure will almost certainly build for a vote when the House returns.

“We’re in a bad place,” said House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.). “I’m discussing options with some other members. We need to put something on the floor.”

And while Johnson has signaled a Ukraine aid vote could occur soon, it’s unclear what proposal the House might vote on.

A Ukraine vote could make or break Johnson’s speakership, as he has to balance competing GOP factions, one of which wants to push back on Russia and the other wants to cut off money for Kyiv.

Ukraine has been a politically toxic issue House GOP leaders have sought to avoid since taking over the majority last year. The same Pentagon account came into focus this fall, as hard-line Republicans tanked defense spending legislation twice before then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy stripped out $300 million for Ukraine to pass it.

Hard-line Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), a Ukraine aid opponent, submitted a motion to oust Johnson on Friday over the full-year spending package that Johnson passed with Democrats’ help. Some Democrats, however, say they’re open to helping Johnson save his job if he holds a Ukraine vote.

Johnson has signaled he may split Ukraine and Israel aid into separate votes. He could push for bills that focus only on weapons or convert Ukraine aid into a loan, as former President Donald Trump has urged.

Most Democrats, however, are clamoring for Johnson to grant a vote on the Senate-passed bill. They argue the measure, which would go straight to Biden if it passes, is the only viable solution.

“They don’t have an alternative. They’re still trying to imagine that Door No. 3 exists. Door No. 1, give us a vote on the Senate bill. Door No. 2, give Putin Ukraine,” Washington Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said of Republicans. “They don’t want to do either one of those. So they’re trying to imagine that there’s a Door No. 3. We have to let them know there is not.”

Lara Seligman contributed to this report.



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