Biden’s $33B Ukraine play- POLITICO

 Biden’s $33B Ukraine play- POLITICO

With help from Betsy Woodruff Swan

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President JOE BIDEN took the “put your money where your mouth is” saying to the extreme today, asking Congress to authorize $33 billion in weapons and other aid to support Ukraine and bolster the administration’s anti-Russia policies.

“The proposal includes more than $20 billion in new military and security assistance, including new authority to quickly transfer weapons to Ukraine out of military stocks and supercharging a Pentagon program to arm its military. The administration is also proposing billions in economic and humanitarian aid as part of the package,” our own PAUL McLEARY and CONNOR O’BRIEN reported.

Speaking from the White House, Biden urged his former congressional colleagues to ensure “this funding gets approved and approved as quickly as possible,” adding that the cash would help Ukraine long-term by boosting “the transition to longer-term security assistance that’s going to help Ukraine continue to defend against Russian aggression.”

“The cost of this fight is not cheap,” Biden continued. “But caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen. We either back [the] Ukrainian people as they defend their country, or we stand by as the Russians continue their atrocities and aggression in Ukraine.”

The announcement ends a scramble by government agencies to send what they wanted funded to the Office of Management Budget. It’s likely no agency got everything they wanted — if they did, it’s easy to imagine the $33 billion number would be far higher. U.S. officials, though, seem happy with the proposed package.

“The president’s funding request is what we believe is needed to enable Ukraine’s success over the next five months of this war,” an administration official told reporters on a call today. “And we have every expectation that our partners and allies … will continue to provide comparable levels of assistance going forward.”

So what’s in the darn proposal? Here’s McLeary and O’Brien again: “The administration’s proposal would earmark $16.4 billion for the Defense Department. That includes the $6 billion for the Pentagon’s account to arm Ukraine’s military as well as $2.6 billion to fund troop deployments to Europe. The package also proposes $5.4 billion to replenish military inventories of weapons and equipment sent to front lines.”

Here’s one part we’d like to point out: The administration is asking for $4 billion in “Foreign Military Financing” to Ukraine and other nations partly to enable the “diversification away from Russian systems to include aviation, artillery, armor, air defense, communications, and coastal defenses and related support and training,” as well as “[wean] countries off of Russian systems.”

In other words, the U.S. is using the opportunity to get other countries to stop sending their dollars to Russia for military equipment and send it elsewhere — America, perhaps? Either way, it’s a not-so-subtle signal to countries like India and Vietnam that they need to change the equipment they buy.

Meanwhile, some experts have concerns about the way this announcement was rolled out.

“The topline number looks good. But instead of using this to fix our broken security assistance system, the Biden administration is just perpetuating the broken status quo,” MAX BERGMANN, the Europe director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told NatSec Daily. “The money to aid Ukraine should be put in one place, State. State should be doing foreign aid, not DoD. There’s no reason, zero, zip, that our arms sales process, of which State is in the lead, should be structured differently than our security assistance process. Congress should fix this craziness because it doesn’t look like the White House will.”

The question now is whether Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER aims to pass all this through alone or paired with a Covid bill. Biden doesn’t have a preference.

“I don’t care how they tie — how they do it. I’m sending them both up,” Biden said. “I mean, I — they can do it separately or together. But we need them both.”

SITUATION REPORT: We will only cite official sources. As always, take all figures, assessments and statements with a healthy dose of skepticism.

War in Ukraine: 

— Since the war began on Feb. 24, Russia has lost roughly 22,800 personnel; 970 tanks; 2,389 armored combat vehicles; 431 artillery systems; 151 multiple-launch rocket systems; 187 warplanes; 155 helicopters; eight ships; and 215 drones. (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

— “[R]ussian enemy increases the pace of the offensive operation. In almost all directions, the [R]ussian occupiers are exerting intense fire. The greatest activity is observed in Slobozhansky and Donetsk directions.” (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

— ”The main efforts of [R]ussian occupiers are focused on the Izium direction. [R]ussian enemy is trying to launch an offensive in the directions of Sulyhivka — Nova Dmytrivka and Andriivka — Velyka Komyshuvakha. In order to strengthen the advancing group, [R]ussian occupiers additionally moved airborne units to the city of Izyum, as well as up to 500 units of technic.” (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

— “[R]ussian occupiers continue to use Melitopol airfield for the base and flight of Su-25 attack aircraft, Ka-52 attack helicopters and Mi-8 transport and combat aircraft.” (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

— “Approximately 20 Russian Navy vessels are currently in the Black Sea operational zone, including submarines. The Bosporus Strait remains closed to all non-Turkish warships, rendering Russia unable to replace its lost cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea. Despite the embarrassing losses of the landing ship Saratov and cruiser Moskva, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet retains the ability to strike Ukrainian and coastal targets.” (U.K. Ministry of Defense)

Global Response:

Spain: A Spanish ship carrying 200 tons of military aid for Ukraine has arrived in Poland.


— The Associated Press: “A Chilling Russian Cyber Aim in Ukraine: Digital Dossiers”

— Time: “Inside Zelensky’s World”

—Reuters: “NATO says it’s ready to back Kyiv for years in war against Russia”

GERMANY SIGNALS IT’LL STEP UP: “The German parliament on Thursday instructed the government to boost military support for Ukraine and sent pointed warnings to China and Serbia over their support for Russia,” POLITICO Europe’s HANS VON DER BUCHARD reported.

But, and with Germany there’s always a but: “[t]he vote was overshadowed by increasing quarrels between the government and opposition in recent days over whether Chancellor OLAF SCHOLZ remains committed to his recent promise that Germany would finally adhere to the NATO goal of spending 2 percent of its economic output on defense, after having missed that target for many years.”

The Parliament’s resolution is non-binding, but von der Burchard notes “the fact that it comes with such a broad majority and the backing of the three ruling parties — the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democratic Party — means it can be read as a clear instruction to Scholz’s government.”

So what happens now? Berlin seems poised to send heavy weapons and complex systems to Ukraine while the possibility remains that Germany will send new tanks to Eastern Europe as regional nations send Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine.

PEW: BEIJING’S RUSSIA ALIGNMENT SOURS U.S. OPINION: Our own China Watcher PHELIM KINE writes that the percentage of Americans with unfavorable opinions of the People’s Republic of China has risen sharply over the past year due partly to its alignment with Russia’s Ukraine invasion, the results of a new Pew Research Center survey released today indicates.

The survey, which canvassed 3,581 U.S. adults from March 21 to 27, revealed that two-thirds of respondents consider China to be a “major threat,” an increase of 5 percentage points from March 2021. The percentage of Americans who view China as a “competitor” rose 8 percentage points to 62 percent while the percentage of those who see China as an “enemy” stayed constant at 35 percent. Beijing’s partnership with Moscow is perceived as a “very serious problem” by 62 percent of respondents.

The Pew results will likely encourage politicians to weaponize growing U.S. public antipathy toward China as a campaign focus in the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential race. That’s already happening in the Pennsylvania GOP Senate primary race where TV medical personality MEHMET OZ and hedge funder DAVID MCCORMICK are making each other’s Chinese-related business investments and previous public statements a key platform plank.

A similar China slugfest is unfolding in the GOP Senate primary in Missouri. The strong anti-China rhetoric from some candidates, Asian American lawmakers warn, could fuel growing anti-Asian hate crimes.

“The previous U.S. administration and anti-China forces in the United States, driven by ideological bias and selfish political gains, flagrantly smeared and maligned China, provoked confrontation and division, disseminated political viruses, and poisoned the public opinion atmosphere in both countries,” LIU PENGYU, spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, told POLITICO.

RUSSIA DOES ALL THE THREATS: The rhetoric out of Russia is getting increasingly intense. Here’s a quick roundup of some of the comments we’ve seen today alone:

— Russia’s foreign spy chief accused the U.S. and Poland of trying to gain a sphere of influence in Ukraine. “According to the intelligence received by Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, Washington and Warsaw are working on plans to establish Poland’s tight military and political control over its historical possessions in Ukraine,” SERGEI NARYSHKIN said.

— Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned the U.S. and its allies against further pushing Moscow. “In the West, they are openly calling on Kyiv to attack Russia including with the use of weapons received from NATO countries,” spokesperson MARIA ZAKHAROVA told reporters. “I don’t advise you to test our patience further.”

— The Kremlin unequivocally said the influx of Western weapons into Ukraine threatened Europe’s security. “In itself, the tendency to pump weapons, including heavy weapons, to Ukraine and other countries are actions that threaten the security of the continent and provoke instability,” spokesperson DMITRY PESKOV also told reporters.

To paraphrase the philosopher Nelly, Russia is really saying “It’s getting hot in here, so please stop funneling weapons and money to Ukraine because we’re getting beat.” But the repetition of these threats — including nuclear ones by Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN himself — means the chances of a miscalculation inch upward.

CANADA TRAINS UKRAINIANS ON HOWITZERS: In a visit to the Pentagon on Thursday, Canadian Defense Minister ANITA ANAND confirmed that Canadian soldiers are training their Ukrainian counterparts on the use of M777 howitzers for their ongoing fight against Russia, our own LARA SELIGMAN writes in.

“Since day one of this attack, our Ukrainian friends have faced Putin’s forces with unfailing courage and resolve, and Canada, like the United States, stands firmly with them,” Anand said, standing next to U.S. Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN in the Pentagon briefing room.

Up until now, the Pentagon had declined to confirm or deny what country has been conducting the training, which is critical to repelling Russian forces in the Donbas.

It is still a mystery where this training is taking place.

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FORMER U.S. AMB TO PLEAD GUILTY TO FOREIGN LOBBYING: A former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and Qatar — RICHARD OLSON — will plead guilty to illegally lobbying for Qatar and for not disclosing received gifts while serving as a top American diplomat, the The New York Times’ EDWARD WONG reported.

“The Justice Department said in a filing that Mr. Olson had avoided disclosing in required ethics documents that he had received a first-class airplane ticket from New Mexico to London valued at more than $18,000 and a stay in a luxury hotel in London in January 2015,” Wong wrote. “The payments were made by a Pakistani American businessman whose name was not revealed in the documents. In London, the ambassador met with a businessman from Bahrain, who soon offered him a one-year contract with a salary of $300,000 that would start after he left the State Department.”

The problem with the last bit is that federal regulations stipulate former senior U.S. officials must sit through a one-year “cooling off” period once they leave government. But Olson clearly didn’t do that.

This is a rare instance of a former top U.S. official getting legally reprimanded for breaking federal lobbying laws. We here at NatSec Daily wonder if Olson’s case is just one of many the Justice Department is working on.

FINLAND AND SWEDEN COULD JOIN NATO ‘QUICKLY’: NATO Secretary General JENS STOLTENBERG said today that if Finland and Sweden wanted to join the alliance, they would be “warmly welcomed” and that he expected “that process to go quickly.”

Stoltenberg also tweeted a short readout of his call with Finnish President SAULI NIINISTÖ, during which “He updated me on the deliberations in #Finland on potential #NATO membership.”

It’s safe to say that the NATO chief wouldn’t be so forthright if the likelihood of Finland and Sweden seeking membership was low. He could of course signal openness for political reasons, but his remarks track with the intentions related by leaders in Helsinki and Stockholm.

Russia was already unhappy about the Finnish and Swedish moves. Stoltenberg’s comments will keep the anger fire burning.

AGENCIES STRUGGLING TO SATISFY BIDEN CYBER ORDER: Our own ERIC GELLER reports (for Pros!) that nearly a year after Biden ordered federal agencies to encrypt their computer networks and bolster the security of their user accounts, many systems still lack these protections, imperiling the government’s ability to protect vital data from hackers.

“Only 64 percent of agency computer networks encrypt data sitting on those systems, and only 65 percent of systems encrypt the connections used to move that data, according to a document obtained by POLITICO through a Freedom of Information Act request,” he wrote. “In addition, only 41 percent of government computer systems require users to log on with special cards that verify their identity alongside their password. Another 11 percent require some other form of extra authentication that is resistant to impersonation, while 6 percent require extra authentication that is vulnerable to impersonation.”

So there’s still a long way to go.

‘DECLARATION FOR THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET’: Sixty countries have come together to launch a “Declaration for the Future of the Internet.”

“We call for a new Declaration for the Future of the Internet that includes all partners who actively support a future for the Internet that is open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and secure. We further affirm our commitment to protecting and respecting human rights online and across the digital ecosystem. Partners in this Declaration intend to work toward an environment that reinforces our democratic systems and promotes active participation of every citizen in democratic processes, secures and protects individuals’ privacy, maintains secure and reliable connectivity, resists efforts to splinter the global Internet, and promotes a free and competitive global economy,” the countries, including the U.S., affirmed.

There’s no teeth to the declaration — it’s a statement of principles, after all. But U.S. officials say the goal is to send a signal that many nations want an Internet that is good and democratic for everyone, and not used to inflict harm. Plus, they want to guard against the idea of a “splinternet,” where countries like Russia and China create their own network.

AEROJET ROCKETDYNE DRAMA CONTINUES: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) report that Aerojet Rocketdyne Executive Chair WARREN LICHTENSTEIN filed a new complaint Wednesday in U.S. District Court in California against CEO EILEEN DRAKE and her allies on the board of directors.

It marks the latest round in an increasingly ugly and personal proxy war for control of the rocket maker that has split the board and further clouded the company’s future.

The lawsuit charges that Drake broke the law by misusing corporate funds for her takeover campaign. And it argues that a June 21 meeting she called to vote for new board members violated Aerojet’s bylaws and SEC proxy rules.

Lichtenstein wants shareholders to vote for a new board on June 27.

MICROCHIP MACRO WIN: General Dynamics is no longer experiencing microchip shortages in its supply chain exacerbated by the coronavirus, CEO PHEBE NOVAKOVIC told investors on Wednesday, also per Morning D.

The company is now catching up on orders and she expects the Mission Systems division to see a boost in revenue in future quarters.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may also increase demand for its ordnance and vehicle businesses in both the U.S. and Europe, Novakovic said without offering any specific programs.

UKRAINE CASH HEADED FOR HILL CLASH: Biden’s desire to secure more funding to boost Ukraine’s defenses is running up against the hard realities of modern-day congressional politics, our own ANDREW DESIDERIO reported.

“Top Republicans are shrugging off Democrats’ efforts to combine the new Ukraine assistance with a bipartisan agreement on Covid relief funding. GOP senators are threatening to force difficult votes on the Biden administration’s divisive decision to end pandemic-era curbs on immigration at the southern border, pressing an issue that Democrats are already lamenting that the White House has mishandled,” he wrote. “The resulting jousting on the Hill could end up delaying urgently needed help for the war-ravaged nation, despite overwhelming bipartisan support for additional aid to fend off Russia’s brutal assault. And it comes as Biden administration officials are warning that they will soon run out of funding necessary to help Ukraine repel the Russian offensive.”

Just listen to what Senate Minority Whip JOHN THUNE (R-S.D.) told Desiderio about Schumer’s plans: He “thinks he can leverage support for Ukraine to get Covid supplemental funding. But I’m just saying, as a practical matter, I don’t think that’s a good move for him, because I think that our members are very much interested in having those votes separately,” he said in a brief interview. “And if he tries to link them, it probably dooms both,” Thune added, noting that many Republicans don’t support additional Covid relief funding.

That sound you hear is a buzzsaw preparing to shred Biden’s proposals.

‘SEIZE YACHTS, FUND THE WAR’: The White House unveiled a legislative plan to use the seized assets of Russian oligarchs — including yachts — to fund Ukraine’s defense against invasion.

The plan was confirmed by no less than chief of staff RON KLAIN on Twitter: “Seize yachts, fund the war.

“The U.S. has already seized millions of dollars in assets from wealthy Russians with close ties to President Vladimir Putin. It and other governments are hoping that financial pressure on those individuals will translate into political pressure on Putin, potentially curtailing his power,” Axios’ JACOB KNUTSON wrote. “More than a dozen yachts, worth approximately $2.5 billion, belonging to Russian oligarchs have been seized in several countries worldwide since the armed conflict started, and more are expected to be seized.”

The question now is if the White House’s proposal will sail (get it?) through Congress.

NDAA GETS ITS DAY: Mark your calendars and start stocking up on your favorite energy drink (preferably Rip It). The House Armed Services Committee will mark up its defense policy bill on June 22, Chair ADAM SMITH announced today.

Smith added during a hearing that the aim is to pass the National Defense Authorization Act “off the floor in July” before Congress leaves for its extended summer recess in August.

The full committee markup is typically an all-day and all-night event, as HASC churns through hundreds of amendments and debates many contentious military budget and policy issues.

HASC’s seven subcommittees will debate and approve their portions of the NDAA during the week of June 6, two people familiar with the process tell our colleague CONNOR O’BRIEN.

FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY — RENEWABLE ENERGY, NOT SAUDI OIL: Eleven antiwar and climate groups sent a letter to Biden today demanding he pursue renewable energy independence instead of asking Saudi Arabia to pump more oil during war in Ukraine.

“The current global reliance on fossil fuels empowers dictators and authoritarians in both Russia and the Middle East. The solution to this problem is not found in increasing U.S. support for Gulf State autocracies such as Saudi Arabia as a counterweight to Russia. Doing so will undermine U.S. leadership for democratic values and expand U.S. complicity in Saudi human rights violations. Instead, we ask you to lead the way in a cooperative global effort to accelerate the global transition to green energy,” wrote the groups, including the Sunrise Movement, Friends Committee on National Legislation and the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

The groups also say that asking Riyadh to produce more oil — thus growing its coffers — “will deepen U.S. complicity in the devastating Saudi-led war in Yemen.”

Biden insists he wants to help Ukraine while minimizing the pain for the average American, and reducing prices at the pump is a key priority (not least because of the political ramifications). That’s leading the administration, which has called climate change an existential threat and the top national security priority, to awkwardly combat a warming climate while seeking energy backfills from Saudi Arabia and other nations.

— MAG REED has been named the spokesperson of the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General.

— MURTAZA HUSSAIN, The Intercept: “As Screws Tighten on Russia, a Warning About Civilian Harm of Sanctions”

— BOB MENENDEZ, The Economist: “Senator Bob Menendez says that the work of helping Ukraine has only just begun”

— SAM BRESNICK and NATHANIEL SHER, Wired: “On China, U.S. National Security Experts Fear the Wrong Thing”

Biden meets virtually with Mexican President ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR.

— The Hudson Institute, 10 a.m.: “Seapower and U.S. Strategic Competition in the Indo-Pacific — with JOE COURTNEY, PATRICK M. CRONIN and ROB WITTMAN

— The Wilson Center, 10 a.m.: “The Effect of Western Sanctions: A View from Ukraine — with OKSANA ANTONENKO, VADYM DENYSENKO, ILIYA KUSA and WILLIAM E. POMERANZ

— The Atlantic Council, 11 a.m.: “Understanding the Challenges of U.S. and Allied Defense Innovation — with PAULA J. DOBRIANSKY, COURTNEY KUBE and JAMES D. TAICLET

— The Atlantic Council, 1 p.m.: “Will the U.S. Again Be the Arsenal of Democracy? — with BEN CARDIN, JOHN CORNYN, PAULA J. DOBRIANSKY and THOMAS S. WARRICK

Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.

And thanks to our editor, John Yearwood, who’s upset that Ron Klain stole his catchphrase.

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