Biden asks Congress for $33 billion in new Ukraine aid, power to seize Russian oligarchs' assets

·3 min read

President Biden asked Congress on Thursday for another $33 billion to support Ukraine in its defense from Russia's invasion and for the authority to make it easier to seize and sell the assets of Russian oligarchs, vowing anew that the U.S. was committed to ensuring Ukraine's victory in a war likely to drag on for months.

The funding request — which earmarks $20 billion for military assistance, $8.5 billion in economic assistance to help Ukraine's government continue to function and $3 billion in humanitarian aid — is what the U.S. believes will be necessary over the next five months as the war becomes a protracted conflict.

"We need this bill to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom," Biden said during a speech from the White House. "The cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is more costly."

Biden also wants lawmakers to make it a crime for a person to "knowingly or intentionally possess proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government," double the statute of limitations for foreign money laundering offenses to 10 years, and expand the definition of racketeering under U.S. law to include efforts to evade sanctions.

"These are bad guys," Biden said.

The president asked Congress to allow the federal government to use the proceeds from selling the seized assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs to help the people of Ukraine. That proposal was already gaining bipartisan support in Congress, with Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introducing legislation last month that would allow the Justice Department to liquidate confiscated assets and direct the funding toward a new State Department relief fund for Ukraine.

The U.S. has already spent $14 billion to bolster Ukraine.

The latest White House push to broaden its support for Ukraine follows Biden's announcement earlier this month of $1.6 billion in new defense aid, a tranche that included offensive weapons — howitzers, drones and helicopters — that Ukraine's military desperately needs as the conflict shifts to a brutal ground battle in the country's eastern Donbas region. And it comes just days after Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III traveled to Kyiv and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The increasing willingness of the U.S. and other NATO allies to heavily arm Ukraine marks a clear strategic shift away from the war's initial phase, when allies had been more hesitant to send weapons and munitions that Russian President Vladimir Putin might view as an escalation.

In recent days, Moscow has reiterated threats that it may resort to more direct attacks against the West if it continues its support of Ukraine but those threats have not deterred the U.S. and other allies.

Biden, however, scoffed at claims by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, that Western support for Ukraine amounted to aggression against Moscow.

"We're not attacking Russia. We're helping Ukraine defend itself," Biden said. "Russia is the aggressor. No if, ands or buts about it."

He said Putin's recent bluster was, in his view, "a reflection of [Russia's] failure" on the battlefield.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.