WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a bill that alleviates bureaucratic hurdles associated with loaning U.S. military equipment to Ukraine.
The move came ahead of several other votes on Thursday levying additional penalties on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
The Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, revives a World War II-era program that allowed the government to lend or lease military equipment to U.S. allies.
The bill would allow the Defense Department to lend or lease defense articles to Ukraine or any other eastern European country, such as Poland, impacted by the invasion.
“How we address a threat against one democracy’s sovereignty sends a message about how we’ll act on others, and adversaries like China are watching,” Cornyn said in a statement Thursday, following the Senate’s passage of the bill. “If we believe America supports freedom and democracy, we must provide Ukraine with the weapons necessary to protect its citizens.”
President Joe Biden can already use lend-lease authorities under the Arms Export Control Act, but the latest bill would waive several requirements mandated under that law.
Current law governing the lend-lease program also renders the recipient country financially liable for repaying the United States for costs incurred, such as if the items are damaged or destroyed.
Congress hopes waivers in the bill will allow Biden to more efficiently deliver military aid to Ukraine.
Cornyn’s bill would also waive a statutory time limit that caps the leases at five years, and require the president to establish expedited procedures for delivering loaned or leased military equipment to Ukraine within two months of it becoming law.
The Biden administration on Wednesday authorized another $100 million in Javelin anti-tank weapons for Ukraine from U.S. military stocks. This brings the total of U.S. military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began Feb. 24 to $1.7 billion.
Congress appropriated $3.5 billion to backfill U.S. military equipment sent to Ukraine as part of the $1.5 trillion government funding bill that it passed last month.
Cornyn secured passage of the Ukraine lend-lease bill by holding up a vote on separate legislation to end normal U.S. trade relations with Russia.
The passage of Cornyn’s legislation on Wednesday paved the way for the upper chamber to subsequently pass that legislation, as well as a separate bill banning Russian oil imports into the United States, on Thursday.
Although the House passed the Russia trade relations and oil ban legislation shortly after the Senate, the lower chamber did not take action on the Ukraine lend-lease bill before adjourning for a two-week recess.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.