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Democrats say Biden’s ‘hands partly tied’ on Ukraine assistance by budget gridlock

By Natasha Bertrand, CNN

Democratic lawmakers say President Joe Biden’s “hands are partly tied” when it comes to sending new military equipment to Ukraine to fend off a potential Russian invasion because Congress has still not passed a budget for 2022 that would unlock “vital additional assistance” to the country.

In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby on Monday, Democratic House Reps. Tom Malinowski, Steve Cohen, Gerald Connolly and Marcy Kaptur urged Republicans to come to the table to hash out the 2022 appropriations bill “in part because doing so is necessary to unlock vital additional assistance to Ukraine at a moment when Russian forces are massing on its borders threatening an invasion.”

State Department officials expressed similar concerns in a briefing to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, and members came away concerned by the possibility that Ukraine could be left increasingly vulnerable if a new spending bill isn’t passed soon, Rep. Malinowski told CNN.

“As you know, the administration is maximizing its ability to deliver essential military hardware to the Ukrainians in the face of Putin’s brinksmanship,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “But the administration could begin to do much more with the increased assistance designated in FY22 appropriations for Ukraine.”

“As long as we continue to operate on a continuing resolution, the President’s hands are partly tied,” they added, “limited to providing equipment already in stock or in the pipeline, and unable to use the millions of additional dollars that Congress has designated to support Ukraine’s self-defense.”

The administration last week transferred the “final elements” of a $60 million security assistance package to Ukraine that Biden approved earlier this year, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing last Wednesday. The assistance included “small arms and ammunition” that were set to arrive in the country late last week. The National Defense Authorization Act, passed last week, authorized roughly $300 million for additional security assistance to Ukraine but those funds still need to be appropriated.

The lawmakers wrote that the FY22 appropriations package would complement already flowing emergency aid, and allow the administration to send “more anti-tank weapons for Ukrainian soldiers facing down Russian tanks, more grenade launchers to take on Russian attack helicopters, more night vision systems to deal with Putin’s little green men, as well as enhanced air defense and anti-ship systems.”

US, European and Ukrainian officials have been sounding the alarm for weeks over a major Russian troop buildup near the Ukrainian border that Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned could be a “rehash” of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

In a virtual meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, Biden warned of severe consequences should Russia move to attack Ukraine again.

“I made it absolutely clear to President Putin … that if he moves on Ukraine, the economic consequences for his economy are going to be devastating, devastating,” Biden told reporters on Friday.

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