Biden seeks US$33 billion war chest to support Ukraine, Zelenskyy wants quick approval

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden asked Congress for US$33 billion to support Ukraine – a dramatic escalation of US funding for the war with Russia – and the Ukrainian president pleaded with lawmakers to give the request a swift approval.

The funding request includes more than US$20 billion for weapons, ammunition and other military assistance, as well as US$8.5 billion in direct economic assistance to the Ukrainian government and US$3 billion in humanitarian aid. It is intended to cover the war effort’s needs through September, the end of the fiscal year.

“We need this Bill to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom,” Biden said at the White House after signing the request on Thursday. “The cost of this fight – it’s not cheap – but caving to aggression is going to be more costly.”

The United States has ruled out sending its own or NATO forces to Ukraine but Washington and its European allies have supplied weapons to Kyiv such as drones, Howitzer heavy artillery, anti-aircraft Stinger and anti-tank Javelin missiles.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed what he called “a very important step” by the United States.

“I am thankful to the American people and personally to President Biden for it. I hope that Congress will quickly approve this request for help to our state,” he said in a late night video address.

Biden’s proposal would also let US officials seize more Russian oligarchs’ assets, give the cash from those seizures to Ukraine, and further criminalise sanctions dodging, the White House said.

That would include letting the Justice Department use the strict US racketeering law once deployed against the mafia, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, to build cases against people who evade sanctions.

Biden also wants to give prosecutors more time to build such cases by extending the statute of limitations on money laundering prosecutions to 10 years, instead of five. He would also make it a criminal act to hold money knowingly taken from corrupt dealings with Russia, according to a summary of the legislative proposals.

The measures are part of US efforts to isolate and punish Russia for its Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine, as well as to help Kyiv recover from a war that has reduced cities to rubble and forced more than 5 million people to flee abroad.

Biden has already asked for record peacetime sums to fund Pentagon research and development, and efforts to counter perceived threats from countries including Russia.