Joe Biden signs $40 billion for Ukraine assistance during Asia trip

Biden signed the measure under unusual circumstances. Because he’s in the middle of a trip to Asia, a US official brought a copy of the bill on a commercial flight so the president could sign it, according to a White House official.

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Washington: President Joe Biden on Saturday signed legislation to support Ukraine with another $40 billion in US assistance as the Russian invasion approaches its fourth month.

The legislation, which was passed by Congress with bipartisan support, deepens the US commitment to Ukraine at a time of uncertainty about the war’s future. Ukraine has successfully defended Kyiv, and Russia has refocused its offensive on the country’s east, but American officials warn of the potential for a prolonged conflict.

The funding is intended to support Ukraine through September, and it dwarfs an earlier emergency measure that provided $13.6 billion.

The new legislation will provide $20 billion in military assistance, ensuring a steady stream of advanced weapons that have been used to blunt Russia’s advances. There’s also $8 billion in general economic support, $5 billion to address global food shortages that could result from the collapse of Ukrainian agriculture and more than $1 billion to help refugees.

Biden signed the measure under unusual circumstances. Because he’s in the middle of a trip to Asia, a US official brought a copy of the bill on a commercial flight so the president could sign it, according to a White House official.

The logistics reflect a sense of urgency around continuing US support for Ukraine, but also the overlapping international challenges facing Biden. Even as he tries to reorient American foreign policy to confront China, he’s continuing to direct resources to the largest conflict in Europe since World War II. Earlier to this, Washington sought to portray a united front against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine Monday as President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan measure to reboot the World War II-era “lend-lease” program, which helped defeat Nazi Germany, to bolster Kyiv and Eastern European allies.

The signing comes as the US Congress is poised to unleash billions more to fight the war against Russia — with Democrats preparing $40 billion in military and humanitarian aid, larger than the $33 billion package Biden has requested.

It all serves as a rejoinder to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has seized on Victory in Europe Day — the anniversary of Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1945 and Russia’s biggest patriotic holiday — to rally his people behind the invasion.

“This aid has been critical to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield,” Biden said in a statement.

Biden said it was urgent that Congress approve the next Ukraine assistance package to avoid any interruption in military supplies being sent to help fight the war, with a crucial deadline coming in 10 days.

“We cannot allow our shipments of assistance to stop while we await further Congressional action,” he said. He urged Congress to act — and “to do so quickly.”

In a letter delivered to Capitol Hill on Monday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Congress to act before May 19, when the existing drawdown funds run out. The Pentagon has already sent or committed all but $100 million of the $3.5 billion in weapons and equipment that it can send to Ukraine from its existing stockpiles. And that final $100 million is expected to be used no later than May 19, they said.

“In short, we need your help,” they said in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “The ability to draw upon existing DoD stocks has been a critical tool in our efforts to support the Ukrainians in their fight against Russian aggression, allowing us to quickly source equipment and ensure a sustained flow of security assistance to Ukraine.”

The resolve from Biden and Congress to maintain support for Ukraine has been lasting, but also surprising. Still, as the months-long war with Russia grinds on, the bipartisan showing for Ukraine will be tested as the US and allies are drawn closer toward the conflict.

The House could vote as soon as this week on the bolstered Ukraine aid package, sending the legislation to the Senate, which is working to confirm Biden’s nominee Bridget Brink as the new Ukrainian ambassador. The House’s Tuesday schedule mentioned the Ukraine legislation, but it was unclear how firm that was.

With the president’s party holding only the slimmest majorities in the House and Senate, Republican cooperation is preferred, if not vital in some cases, for passage of the president’s strategy toward the region.

“I think we will be able to do it as quickly as possible,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said over the weekend about an emerging aid package. “We have great bipartisanship in terms of our support for the fight for democracy that the people of Ukraine are making.”

Despite their differences over Biden’s approach to foreign policy and perceived missteps in confronting Russia, when it comes to Ukraine the members of the House and Senate have held together to support the president’s strategy.

The lend-lease bill that Biden signed into law Monday revives the World War II era strategy to more quickly send military equipment to Ukraine. Launched under during World War II, it signaled the US would become what Franklin D. Roosevelt called he “arsenal of democracy” helping Britain and the allies fight Nazi Germany.

Before signing the bill, Biden said “Putin’s war” was “once more bringing wanton destruction of Europe,” drawing reference to the significance of the day.

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