- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Trump administration on Thursday has lifted a hold on $250 million in security assistance to Ukraine to provide enhanced military support to counter Russian aggression, after over a month of uncertainty about whether the president would approve the funds.

The State Department separately approved $141.5 million to help Kyiv improve its military capabilities and maritime defense.

Although the White House has yet to formally acknowledge the release, lawmakers on Capitol Hill applauded the move that beefs up military and security assistance to Ukraine, including various lethal defensive weapons the U.S. had previously balked at providing.

The delay in funding sparked debate over President Trump’s willingness to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin and even reports that the delay was meant to pressure Ukraine’s government to probe financial dealings of the son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, the current front-runner in the Democratic 2020 presidential primary.

The White House unfroze the money as it became clear a number of Republican lawmakers were willing to vote for its release.



Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican and Chairman of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, said in a statement the money “will provide vital assistance to help the Ukrainian military continue on their path of increasing their ability to defend their homeland against any threat.”

Just hours before reports were confirmed that the financial assistance had been approved, the Senate Appropriations Committee considered an amendment to be included in the defense appropriations bill that would have authorized the additional support.

“There is near panic in Ukraine today” over whether the U.S. will release the funds, said Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“They are desperate for a bipartisan signal from the U.S. that we remain with them.”

Experts say that withholding aide could have been detrimental to U.S.-Ukraine relations under the country’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who faces pressure to deal with Russian aggression and intervention in Ukraine’s internal affairs.

“The withholding of aid could have sent a message of U.S. indifference to Kremlin aggression, a dangerous message,” John E. Herbst, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said in an email from Kyiv.

Russia in 2014 annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and is widely accused of backing separatist groups in eastern Ukraine who have seized parts of the country and sparked a civil war that the U.N. says has already resulted in more than 13,000 deaths, including thousands of civilians.

After Congress approved the $250 million military aid package, which included lethal weapons such as Javelin anti-tank missiles, the White House last month unexpectedly ordered Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and recently ousted National Security Adviser John R. Bolton to review the program. The Pentagon subsequently determined the package was in the U.S. national interest.

Mr. Herbst said Thursday’s funding release “fixes a short-sighted and even dangerous policy that, over time, might have encouraged Moscow to escalate.”

Separately, Senate appropriators clashed Thursday over whether to allow funding from the defense budget to go toward construction projects on the Mexican border, jeopardizing the congressional timetable to pass a massive $693 billion defense budget.

Funding for President Trump’s controversial border wall and immigration policies has proved to be a major sticking point in budget negotiations as Congress races against the clock to pass the budget by the end of this month to avoid a government shutdown.

Democrats have stood firm in their fight against diverting $6.1 billion in Pentagon money to construct what they call a “vanity wall” at the southern border, while Republicans echoed White House arguments that the money is vital to national security.

“We need every single penny for defense to make certain that we don’t lose a war for lack of the best technology on earth,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said in opposing the transfer.

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