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Lawmakers Urge Obama to Expedite Lethal Aid for Ukraine

Adam Smith, D-Wash., speaks during the Democratic members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi news conference on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Smith is one of three Democrats joining House GOP leaders in calling for immediate lethal aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed rebels. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Eight House Republicans and three House Democrats agree on something: President Barack Obama should help Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression — and fast.

On Thursday, the bipartisan group of lawmakers sent Obama a letter urging him to “quickly approve additional efforts to support Ukraine’s efforts to defend its sovereign territory, including the transfer of lethal, defense weapons systems to the Ukrainian military.”

In their letter, the lawmakers — including Speaker John A. Boehner and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — remind the president that he signed legislation in December that empowers the administration to give lethal aid to Ukraine, but that the authorities contained in that bill had not yet been tapped.

“We urge you,” the members write, “in the strongest possible terms to use those authorities and resources to meet the specific and direct requests the government of Ukraine has made of your administration.”

In addition to Boehner and McCarthy, co-signers of the letter include Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., and State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas.

The chairmen and ranking members of three House committees also lent their signatures to the effort: Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and ranking member Adam Smith, D-Wash.; Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and ranking member Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y.; and Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and ranking member Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif.

The text of the letter is below:

Dear Mr. President:

From the very beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, a bipartisan majority in Congress has indicated it understands the crisis in Ukraine to be about more than a Russian assault on the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine. It is even more than simply a component of a revisionist Russian strategy to redraw international borders and impose its will on its neighbors. It is a grotesque violation of international law, a challenge to the west, and an assault on the international order established at such great cost in the wake of World War II.

On September 18, 2014, President Petro Poroshenko addressed a Joint Meeting of the United States Congress. He made a passionate plea for the United States and other nations to put action behind their commitment to freedom, democracy, and human dignity. He thanked the Congress for its steadfast, bipartisan support for the people in Ukraine struggling to recapture the freedom and territorial integrity of Ukraine, but he also reminded us and the world that words alone do not beat back aggression and violence. He, like so many friends and allies in Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, and the South Caucasus, remind us daily that the cost of freedom is high, and like any virtue, it is compromised by a lack of vigilance.

The Congress responded to his call to action, and we sent you the Ukraine Freedom Support Act in December. To date, the administration has not utilized the authorities provided in the Ukraine Freedom Support Act to provide defensive military systems to the Ukrainian government.

This week, shortly after the one-year anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity, Members of the Ukrainian Rada visiting Washington reiterated President Poroshenko’s long-standing plea for assistance to the Ukrainian military. We understand these officials discussed a list of military equipment at the Pentagon and with National Security Council staff, and we understand these long-standing requests await a political decision from you.

In the wake of a cease-fire agreement that appears only to have consolidated Russian and separatist gains since the first Minsk agreement, and in anticipation of the near certainty that Russia and its separatist proxies continue their efforts to destabilize Ukraine and seize additional territory, we urge you to quickly approve additional efforts to support Ukraine’s efforts to defend its sovereign territory, including through the transfer of lethal, defensive weapons systems to the Ukrainian military.

We should not wait until Russian troops and their separatist proxies take Mariupol or Kharkiv before we act to bolster the Ukrainian government’s ability to deter and defend against further aggression.

We understand your desire to prioritize unity of effort with Europe, and we believe our European and NATO allies should make clear that Russian aggression in the heart of Europe is unacceptable with deeds as well as words. But we urge you to lead Europe in challenging this assault on international order, lest our foreign policy be held hostage by the lowest common denominator of European consensus. In the face of Russian aggression, the lack of clarity on our overall strategy thus far has done little to reassure our friends and allies in the region who, understandably, feel vulnerable. This needs to change.

The Congress has already, with overwhelming bipartisan support, provided you with the authorities, resources, and political support to provide assistance, including lethal, to the government and people of Ukraine. We urge you in the strongest possible terms to use those authorities and resources to meet the specific and direct requests the government of Ukraine has made of your administration.


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