WASHINGTON — New funding legislation to address the Ukraine crisis is in the works, with potential action next week, U.S. lawmakers said Tuesday.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats are signaling support for supplemental spending amid Russian troop deployments in eastern Ukraine. Some lawmakers are also pushing to boost weapons deliveries from the U.S. to Ukraine — support that is already underway.
“I’ve been on the phone with Democratic senators for the last two days. We’re talking about an emergency supplemental to be created next week,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a senior appropriator, told reporters Tuesday.
The comments came ahead of President Joe Biden referring to Russian actions as “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine” and announcing strong new sanctions against Moscow. Russia’s recognition of the independence of several regions in eastern Ukraine and its decision to send in forces has raised fears that President Vladimir Putin will soon launch a full-scale invasion.
Biden has sent some 5,000 troops from the U.S. to Germany and Poland, and another 1,000 from Germany to Romania in recent weeks as a show of support for NATO allies. On Tuesday, Biden said recent U.S. troop moves were “totally defensive,” reiterating: “We have no intention of fighting Russia.”
Earlier in the day, a bipartisan group of 21 U.S. lawmakers who participated in the Munich Security Conference in Germany over the weekend released a joint statement condemning Russia and voicing support for both “a free and peaceful Ukraine” as well as congressional action to back NATO. Graham and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., led the group.
“We pledge to work toward whatever emergency supplemental legislation will best support our NATO allies and the people of Ukraine, and support freedom and safety around the world,” the statement read. “No matter what happens in the coming days, we must assure that the dictator Putin and his corrupt oligarchs pay a devastating price for their decisions.”
Key details remained unclear, including the amount of the proposed supplemental and what it would pay for. However, The New York Times reported that the nascent spending bill would pump up lethal aid to Ukraine, help the Defense Department fund troop deployments to NATO countries to the north and the west of Ukraine, and prepare Ukraine’s neighbors for refugees.
Though Republicans are not unified in supporting Ukraine, one top Republican, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, signaled support along these lines and for robust defense budgets more generally.
“We must also stand by the brave Ukrainians fighting to protect their sovereignty. The United States and all friends of Ukraine must ensure a pipeline of support, including arms, flows to Ukrainians resisting Russian aggression,” McConnell said. “We must also shore up NATO’s defenses along its eastern flank and make clear that aggression against NATO countries will be met with an overwhelming collective response.”
For his part, Graham wants the funds to bolster NATO allies against Russian cyberattacks and send more U.S. weapons to Ukraine. He also wants the money to create an intergovernmental task force from the departments of State, Justice, Treasury and possibly Defense that would aim to sanction Putin and Russian oligarchs.
“I want to see cops go in and take apartments, find art, seize yachts from a bunch of thugs and crooks,” Graham said. “I want to put money on the table to have more weapons for Ukraine to fight. I want more protection when it comes to cyber. And I want to go at this big and I want to go at it hard.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s top Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio, voiced fears of a cyberwar with Russia that “could rapidly escalate to something far more dangerous, including, unfortunately, kinetic military confrontation.”
Rubio, of Florida, also called for the U.S. to send more arms to Ukraine. “Let’s speed up the amount of defensive weaponry we provide them,” he told Fox News.
Democrats also voiced support for more lethal aid for Ukraine, including Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz. Kelly chairs the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, which oversees security cooperation policy.
“I have supported and will continue to support providing Ukraine with weapons and equipment to defend themselves against further Russian invasion, and will continue working with my colleagues and this administration to defend Ukrainian sovereignty,” Kelly said in a statement.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.