Refugee groups stomp on Biden’s Ukraine welcome mat- POLITICO

 Refugee groups stomp on Biden’s Ukraine welcome mat- POLITICO

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President JOE BIDEN’s new program to bring Ukrainians to America is not going over well with many professionals whose lives’ work is helping people in such dire straits.

The program, called Uniting for Ukraine, allows Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s bombs to reach U.S. soil under a temporary status called humanitarian parole. Although the Ukrainians must meet security, health and other conditions — including having a U.S. sponsor who will help with funding — the administration insists the process will be streamlined.

Advocates for refugees have spent the past day and a half offering tepid praise for the approach. But most have dispensed frank criticism. Here are some of their basic arguments:

1. It’s unwise to rely on a temporary fix like humanitarian parole. Parole status lasts up to two years, and while it will let qualifying Ukrainians work, its temporary nature undermines people’s ability to plan their lives. “It’s critically important that any immigration pathway, including the use of parole, leads to a permanent pathway towards citizenship with appropriate support for Ukrainians who wish to remain in the U.S.,” argued JENNY YANG, senior vice president of advocacy and policy for World Relief.

It’s worth remembering that no one knows how long the war between Russia and Ukraine will last, and it’s also unclear how long it will take to rebuild Ukraine.

The Biden team’s response? A senior administration official told NatSecDaily that discussions with Ukrainian escapees indicate that many — probably most — are seeking a temporary solution because they intend to return to Ukraine. Many are women and children with husbands and fathers still in Ukraine, often fighting, and they want to be reunited with them in their homeland. “This is a pretty unique response to a unique situation,” the official said.

2. Instead of devoting resources to this approach, why not beef up the U.S. refugee resettlement program? That program has been rebuilding since former President DONALD TRUMP tried to destroy it. The rebuilding was sped up in part due to another crisis: last year’s evacuation of more than 70,000 Afghans to America as Afghanistan fell into Taliban hands. (Many of the Afghans are on humanitarian parole, too.)

MELANIE NEZER, a top official with the HIAS refugee advocacy group, noted that the Biden administration “is saying that it has the capacity to do the security reviews and vetting, that they can make sure that people are vaccinated and tested for COVID.” In that case, she wondered, “Why wouldn’t we bring them through the U.S. refugee program? If not now, when?”

The refugee program offers a permanent life in America. But another distinction, as Nezer pointed out, is that there are some government-funded resources available to refugees, including help finding work and housing, and limited cash assistance. Parolees wouldn’t get that assistance, having to rely on their sponsors instead, Nezer said.

The senior administration official said the White House is continuing to rebuild the refugee program and that it remains a priority. (So far this fiscal year, the program has resettled fewer than 9,000 refugees, despite having an annual goal of 125,000.) The White House is still willing to use that program for Ukrainians seeking permanent resettlement, as well as others fleeing the war — including dissident Russians who are unlikely to be able to return home soon.

3. Why not offer some version of this program for other vulnerable groups? This is an uncomfortable but fair question. The Biden administration recently declared that Rohingya Muslims were victims of genocide at the hands of Myanmar’s military, but it hasn’t rolled out a “Uniting for the Rohingya” program. Adding to the sensitivity is the political fight over whether Biden should stop turning away migrants, including asylum seekers, on public health grounds under what’s known as Title 42.

In a statement, Sen. BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised this point: “I will continue to call on the administration to restore full access to our asylum laws at the southern border, where too many Black and Brown migrants in our hemisphere have been denied the opportunity to seek humanitarian protection in the United States.”

Asked about this criticism, the senior administration official said many people in other vulnerable groups have often been outside their countries for years, are unlikely to be able to return home and are thus more in need of the permanence offered by the refugee program than a temporary solution like Uniting for Ukraine. The administration also is looking at ways to make the asylum system more fair and efficient.

What’s most obvious is that the U.S. refugee resettlement and asylum programs — which are different initiatives — are a mess. Much of this can be blamed on Trump. But by turning to an array of patchwork approaches, the Biden team isn’t exactly helping clarify the system, even as it tries mightily to aid desperate people. Any Ukrainian trying to reach the United States via its border with Mexico right now — and there are thousands — is probably pretty confused.

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 21,200 personnel; 838 tanks; 2,162 armored combat vehicles; 397 artillery systems; 138 multiple-launch rocket systems; 176 warplanes; 153 helicopters; eight ships; and 172 drones. (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

— “In the temporarily occupied territories, Russian enemy units continue to block the movement of local people … [Russian forces are] destroying critical infrastructure and blocking the delivery of humanitarian goods from Ukraine. There have been cases of executions of civilians and volunteers.” (Ukrainian Ministry of Defense)

— “In the south and east of our country, the occupiers continue to do everything to have a reason to talk about at least some victories. They are accumulating forces, driving new battalion tactical groups to our land. They are even trying to start the so-called mobilization in the occupied regions of Ukraine. None of these steps will help Russia in the war against our state. They can only delay the inevitable — the time when the invaders will have to leave our territory. In particular Mariupol. A city that continues to resist Russia. Despite everything the occupiers say.” (Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY)

— Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN’s “decision to blockade the Azovstal steel plant likely indicates a desire to contain Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol and free up Russian forces to be deployed elsewhere in eastern Ukraine. A full ground assault by Russia on the plant would likely incur significant Russian casualties, further decreasing their overall combat effectiveness.” (U.K. Ministry of Defense)

Global Response: 

— European Union: Brussels is drawing up plans for a sixth package of sanctions against Russia, with measures expected to be presented to member states early next week.

— U.K.: Prime Minister BORIS JOHNSON said Britain was considering sending tanks to Poland so that Poland can then send Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukraine. Johnson also announced the U.K. will reopen its embassy in Kyiv next week.


— The New York Times: “One Ukrainian War Casualty: The World’s Largest Airplane”

— The Wall Street Journal: “Russia Sanctions Led American Express to Cut Financial Lifeline in Ukraine”

— The Washington Post: “How U.K. Intelligence Came to Tweet the Lowdown on the War in Ukraine”

SECDEF TO VISIT RAMSTEIN: Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN announced Friday that he’ll host several of his global counterparts for a “Ukraine Defense Consultative Group” at Ramstein Air Base in Germany next week.

“Our goal here is not only to assess Ukraine’s latest defense needs, but also discuss how to ensure Ukraine’s enduring security and sovereignty over the long term is respected and developed — something that will be extremely important to regional security,” Austin tweeted.

The secretary added that the defense ministers plan to discuss “the latest battlefield assessments of the renewed Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, energizing the Defense Industrial Base in an effort to continue the steady flow of security assistance, and again, examining Ukraine’s defense needs through a long term view.”

It’s possible, of course, that Austin could travel to Kyiv after his stop at Ramstein; since last week, the Biden administration has been weighing whether and how to send a high-ranking U.S. official to the Ukrainian capital.

MASS GRAVES NEAR MARIUPOL: Satellite image provider Maxar Technologies released photos Thursday showing what appeared to be mass graves near Mariupol, the besieged city in southeastern Ukraine that Putin claimed Russian forces had conquered, per The Associated Press.

Maxar said the photos showed long rows of more than 200 mass graves in the town of Manhush, outside Mariupol, where Ukrainian officials say the Russians have been burying Mariupol residents killed in the fighting. Maxar also said a review of previous images indicated that the graves were dug late last month and expanded in recent weeks.

The Mariupol City Council said in a Telegram post that the graves could hold as many as 9,000 dead. “The occupiers dug new trenches and filled them with corpses every day throughout April. Our sources report that in such graves the bodies are placed in several layers,” the council said, estimating that roughly 22,000 people had been killed by Russian forces in Mariupol.

COMMANDER SAYS RUSSIA PLANS FULL CONTROL OF SOUTH UKRAINE: Russian news agencies reported Friday that RUSTAM MINNEKAYEV, the deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, said Russia plans to take full control of Ukraine’s Donbas region and the southern part of the country as part of its new offensive, per Reuters.

“Control over the south of Ukraine is another way to Transdniestria, where there is also evidence that the Russian-speaking population is being oppressed,” Minnekayev reportedly said at a meeting in Russia’s central Sverdlovsk region. Transdniestria, or Transnistria, is a pro-Russia breakaway region of Moldova, which borders Ukraine to the southwest.

Minnekayev also reportedly said that Russia planned to establish a land corridor between the Donbas and Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula south of Ukraine that Russia illegally annexed in 2014. He went on to defend Russian forces’ flailing performance amid the invasion.

“The media are now talking a lot about some failures of our armed forces. But this is not the case,” Minnekayev reportedly said. “In the first days … the tactics of Ukrainian units were designed to ensure that, having pulled ahead, individual groups of Russian troops fell into pre-prepared ambushes and suffered losses. … But the Russian armed forces very quickly adapted to this and changed tactics.”

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WRAY WARNS CHINA IS BIGGEST COUNTER-INTEL THREAT: FBI Director CHRISTOPHER WRAY, in a new interview with CBS News’ SCOTT PELLEY, described China and its ruling Communist Party as “the biggest threat we face as a country from a counter-intelligence perspective.”

“No country presents a broader, more severe threat to our ideas, our innovation, our economic security than China,” Wray said. “And they are targeting our innovation, our trade secrets, our intellectual property on a scale that’s unprecedented in history. They have a bigger hacking program than that of every other major nation combined. They have stolen more of Americans’ personal and corporate data than every nation combined.”

Pressed on how the FBI is working now to counter Beijing, Wray said the bureau “is keenly focused on the China counterintelligence threat,” revealing: “We are now moving at a pace where we’re opening a new China counterintelligence investigation about every 12 hours.”

U.S. TURNS SCREWS ON SOLOMON ISLANDS: A delegation of Biden administration officials arrived this week in the Solomon Islands to warn the government there about the implications of its deal with China that could, in theory, give Beijing new strategic bases in that Pacific region.

Based on a White House readout, the Americans — led by National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator KURT CAMPBELL and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs DANIEL KRITENBRINK — were upfront. “If steps are taken to establish a de facto permanent military presence, power-projection capabilities, or a military installation, the delegation noted that the United States would then have significant concerns and respond accordingly,” the readout states.

The Americans offered carrots, too, promising to “expedite the opening of an embassy in Solomon Islands; advance cooperation on unexploded ordnance; launch a program on maritime domain awareness; dispatch the Mercy hospital ship to address public health; advance a dialogue on the return of the Peace Corps; deliver additional vaccines; and advance initiatives on climate, health, and people-to-people ties.”

“Solomon Islands representatives indicated that the agreement had solely domestic applications,” the readout states, and Prime Minister MANASSEH SOGAVARE “reiterated his specific assurances that there would be no military base, no long-term presence, and no power projection capability.” But the U.S. delegation noted there are potential regional security implications of the accord” and said Washington would be watching closely.

“The United States and Solomon Islands agreed to launch a high-level strategic dialogue” to keep the conversation going, the readout states.

EU TARGETS MISINFORMATION, ILLEGAL MATERIAL ON SOCIAL MEDIA: The European Union neared a deal Friday on a piece of landmark legislation called the Digital Services Act, which would “force Facebook, YouTube and other internet services to combat misinformation, disclose how their services amplify divisive content and stop targeting online ads based on a person’s ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation,” per The New York Times’ ADAM SATARIANO.

The measure “is intended to address social media’s societal harms by requiring companies to more aggressively police their platforms for illicit content or risk billions of dollars in fines,” Satariano writes. “Tech companies would be compelled to set up new policies and procedures to remove flagged hate speech, terrorist propaganda and other material defined as illegal by countries within the European Union.”

The Digital Services Act would come after the European Union last month “agreed to a different sweeping law, the Digital Markets Act, to counter what regulators see as anticompetitive behavior by the biggest tech firms, including their grip over app stores, online advertising and internet shopping.”

MORE DETAILS ON MYSTERY DRONE: Our own LEE HUDSON and PAUL MCLEARY revealed details about the new drone that the Biden administration announced Thursday as part of the latest $800 million security package for Ukraine.

The 121 “Phoenix Ghost” drones included in the U.S. weapons package were developed by California-based Aevex Aerospace — a company that was founded in 2017 and employs 500 people with offices in California, North Carolina and Virginia. Aevex is a combination of three companies that were already established in the defense sector: Merlin Global Services, CSG Solutions and Special Operations Solutions.

The Air Force drone program, which was under development before Russia’s invasion, matched Ukraine’s specific requirements and has “similar capabilities” to the AeroVironment Switchblade drone already in Ukraine, said Pentagon spokesperson JOHN KIRBY. The Switchblade, which the U.S. began sending to Ukraine this month, is a 5.5-pound drone that can loiter over an area for 30 to 40 minutes before an operator slams it into its target, detonating a small warhead.

The Phoenix Ghost “is a different type of aircraft, it’s a one-way aircraft that is effective against medium armored ground targets,” said retired Lt. Gen. DAVID DEPTULA, dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and member of the Aevex board. The drone can take off vertically, fly for six-plus hours searching for or tracking a target, and operate at night using its infrared sensors, Deptula said. The Phoenix Ghost also has a longer loitering capability than the Switchblade, which can fly for less than an hour, he added.

PENTAGON NOT CONSIDERING ENERGY CONSUMPTION: A new Pentagon review found the services and Joint Staff don’t adequately consider how much energy a weapon consumes when buying or upgrading equipment, Lee reports (for Pros!).

The Pentagon’s Climate Working Group discovered that across 44 joint programs there was an “inconsistent application” of energy requirements, Deputy Defense Secretary KATHLEEN HICKS wrote in a Thursday memo sent to top Pentagon officials.

Military leaders have long been concerned about the Pentagon’s reliance on fossil fuels. The Biden administration is pushing for the Defense Department to reduce energy consumption to ensure a competitive advantage against China and Russia, Hicks said in a statement Friday commemorating Earth Day.

UKRAINE AID COULD GET TANGLED WITH COVID FUNDING, TITLE 42: Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER is indicating that he could embroil Biden’s plea for additional Ukraine cash in a legislative battle over a pandemic-era border policy, reports our own ANDREW DESIDERIO.

Schumer has said he wants to combine new Ukraine aid with “funding to address Covid-19 and food insecurity globally.” Talks over a Covid-19 funding bill fell apart earlier this month when Republicans demanded amendment votes on Biden’s decision to end certain restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border related to the pandemic, known as Title 42. And with more Democrats opposing Biden’s decision to reverse Title 42, all three hot-button issues could soon collide.

Biden announced an additional $800 million in military aid for Ukraine on Thursday, and in doing so revealed that he has “almost exhausted” a key fund that Congress created as part of the last Ukraine package. He said he would be asking Congress for additional funding next week “in order to sustain Ukraine for the duration of this fight” and “keep weapons and ammunition flowing without interruption.”

The president said he wants Congress to move “quickly” on the request, but it could get slowed down if lawmakers try to tack on other White House priorities. And amid the criticism over Title 42, Democrats have discussed potentially crafting a supplemental appropriations bill for the border.

MACRON DRAWS IRE WITH DIPLOMATIC DECREE: In the final days of a presidential election, French President EMMANUEL MACRON is facing criticism for the publication of a decree last weekend announcing the blending of France’s 800-strong diplomatic corps into a larger single pool of senior civil servants, reports our own MAÏA DE LA BAUME.

Outraged politicians and usually loyal diplomats argue the move is a first step toward wiping out the country’s traditional career diplomats — just when they’re urgently needed to tackle the war in Ukraine.

“To some, the decree is the culmination of Macron’s defiance toward a diplomatic corps that he regards as elitist and homogeneous,” de La Baume writes. “The risk, many say, is to see France drift toward a U.S.-inspired model of ambassadors who are political or prestige appointees close to the president, but who are less able to handle an increasingly volatile geopolitical situation.”

— MICHAEL CONTRADES has been nominated to serve as U.S. Marshal for the District of Hawaii; DAVID DAVIS has been nominated to serve as U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Illinois; and ENIX SMITH III has been nominated to serve as U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Contrades has served as a field representative for Rep. KAIALI‘I KAHELE (D-Hawaii) on the island of Kauai since last year. Davis has served as a task force officer for the Illinois State Police Department since 2017. Smith served in the office of former Rep. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-La.) from 2011 until last year.

— MICHAEL GONZALES has been nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to Zambia and MICHAEL RATNEY has been nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Gonzales currently serves as a deputy assistant secretary of State in the Bureau of African Affairs. Ratney currently is the acting deputy director of the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute.

— CINDY DYER has been nominated to serve as director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking. She previously served on the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military and currently is a senior adviser and highly qualified expert at the Defense Department.

— GEOFFREY PYATT has been nominated to serve as assistant secretary of State for energy resources. He currently serves as U.S. ambassador to Greece.

— SAM BIDDLE and JACK POULSON, The Intercept: “American Phone-Tracking Firm Demo’d Surveillance Powers by Spying on CIA and NSA”

— SASHA ABRAMSKY, The Nation: “Daniel Ellsberg on the Existential Threat of Global Conflict”

— BILL MCKIBBEN, The New Yorker: “This Earth Day, We Could Be Helping the Environment — and Ukraine”

United Nations Secretary-General ANTÓNIO GUTERRES visits Moscow to meet with Putin.

— The Atlantic Council, 6 p.m.: “The Chuck Hagel Forum in Global Leadership — with CHUCK HAGEL, MAEVE HEMMER, FRED KEMPE, JOANNE LI, JANET NAPOLITANO and JODY NEATHERY-CASTRO

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, Ben Pauker, who makes us call him “Phoenix Ghost” in all official POLITICO correspondence.

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