President Joe Biden sent a request Thursday to Congress for a new $33 billion aid package for Ukraine, and proposed legislation that would allow the United States to seize the assets of Russian oligarchs and crack down on sanctions evasion.
The president called on Congress to swiftly approve the defense and humanitarian assistance, saying the U.S. had “almost exhausted” the $13.6 billion aid package for Ukraine that Congress approved last month.
“The cost of this fight is not cheap. But caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen,” Biden said in brief remarks at the White House.
“It’s critical this funding gets approved and approved as quickly as possible,” Biden said.
The aid would provide Ukraine with more artillery and anti-air systems, among other defense assistance, as Russia continues a new offensive in eastern Ukraine. The humanitarian aid would go to food, water, medicine and other assistance for the millions of Ukrainians who have fled the country or have been internally displaced.
The sanctions legislation would allow the Treasury and Justice Departments to seize yachts and other assets owned by Russian oligarchs and use proceeds from the forfeited property to help Ukraine in its war against Russia.
“We’re going to seize their yachts, their luxury homes and other ill-begotten gains,” Biden said, and use the proceeds “directly to remedy the harm that Russia has caused.”
The proposal would streamline the government’s ability to seize property owned by wealthy Russians and crack down on sanctions evasion.
Currently, the U.S. can forfeit the proceeds from sanctions violations, but it cannot forfeit property that is used to facilitate sanctions violations. The legislation proposed by Biden “closes that gap,” the White House said in a fact sheet released ahead of Biden’s speech.
The proposal would also add sanctions evasion to the definition of “racketeering activity” under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, giving the Justice Department a powerful tool to go after figures and entities that evade U.S. sanctions against Russia.
Since the war began in late February, the Treasury Department has “sanctioned and blocked vessels and aircraft worth over $1 billion,” the White House said. The U.S. has also frozen hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. bank accounts owned by Russian elites, officials said.
The latest effort to ratchet up sanctions comes as senior Russian officials have accused the U.S. and NATO of waging a proxy war in Ukraine against Russia. Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned there was a “serious” risk of nuclear war.
Biden criticized the rhetoric Thursday, saying that “no one should be making ideal comments about the use of nuclear weapons.” The president dismissed Russia’s criticism of the West’s role in the conflict.
“It shows the desperation that Russia is feeling about their abject failure” to swiftly capture Ukraine, Biden said.
The president also said the U.S. was working with Japan and other allies to provide energy assistance to Poland and Bulgaria, one day after Russia announced it was cutting off gas to those countries. Biden called the move an attempt by Russia to “intimidate and blackmail” Europe by withholding critical energy exports.
The additional Ukrainian aid was part of a supplemental budget request to Congress that also included a proposal for $22.5 billion in new emergency funding to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House has been urging Congress to approve additional funding to fight Covid-19 since negotiations over a bipartisan bill broke down last month. Biden said Thursday that the funding would allow the U.S. to purchase vaccines and treatments for distribution in the U.S. and abroad.