Leaked top secret documents revealing that Ukraine could run out of air-defense missiles within weeks are putting pressure on the Biden administration and NATO allies to increase support for the war effort, congressional sources say.
Ukraine’s dwindling supply of weapons also raises questions about whether Congress will need to pass another military aid package before the end of the year, speeding up the timeline of a confrontation over foreign aid and military spending between Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate leaders.
The Biden administration frontloaded its shipment of military aid to Ukraine for 2023 at the start of the year, and only has an estimated $3 billion in drawdown authority for the rest of the year, according to a projection based on numbers compiled by the Defense Department’s comptroller.
An administration official pointed out that additional funding for Ukraine military assistance could come from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and the Department of State’s Foreign Military Financing Program.
But the president’s drawdown authority has the most immediate impact because it allows the Defense Department to transfer weapons directly to Ukraine or to NATO allies that ship weapons to the war zone.
The White House hasn’t yet formally asked Congress for more money to fund the war in Ukraine and senior administration officials in briefings with lawmakers have conveyed an optimistic narrative about Ukraine’s ability to match and even defeat Russia’s armed forces.
“The administration says they have enough [money] for the end of the fiscal year, which would line up with a [continuing resolution] but I don’t know if that will change and we’ll need something sooner,” said a Republican aide, who had not expected congressional action on another Ukraine assistance package before September.
Congress attached $47 billion in military and economic assistance for Ukraine to the $1.7 trillion omnibus package it passed in December, anticipating it would last throughout 2023. The money for Ukraine was $10 billion more than the administration requested.
The Biden administration said when it requested $37 billion in emergency Ukraine aid in November that it did not want to return repeatedly to Capitol Hill to ask for smaller installments throughout this year.
The Pentagon leak is sparking concerns on Capitol Hill that the Biden administration may be waiting too long to prevent Ukraine from running out of air defense weapons, which could tip the advantage on the battlefield decisively toward Russia.
Ukrainian ground forces have been able to fight invading Russian troops to a standstill in large part because Ukrainian air defenses have kept Russian fighter craft and bombers at bay.
Ukraine’s robust air defenses have also protected weapons and equipment supplied by the United States and NATO allies from becoming easy targets for the Russian air force.
That revelation that Ukraine may exhaust a substantial portion of its air-defense weapons by early next month is catching lawmakers by surprise.
“It does seem like we’re not hearing the whole story,” the Republican aide said. “It’s definitely surprising.”
Michael O’Hanlon, a senior foreign policy fellow who specializes in defense strategy at the Brookings Institution, said “the presumption should be that we may need to step up deliveries and possibly funds too.”
He also expressed concern over what the leaked documents may mean for U.S. intelligence gathering.
“I also worry that Russia will now tighten communications security, depriving us of info on their plans and intentions,” he said.
The Biden administration’s lack of urgency in pressing for another round of military aid for Ukraine is now getting a skeptical second look on Capitol Hill.
Any request for additional military assistance for Ukraine would have strong bipartisan support in the Senate but McCarthy remains a wildcard.
While Senate Democrats and Republicans believe there’s broad support for more Ukraine aid in the House Republican conference, House conservatives may try to block it, especially if the Biden White House refuses to agree to any of their demands for spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
McCarthy declared in October that Republicans would not write a “blank check” for Ukraine if they took control of the House.
In March, the Speaker declined an invitation from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that he travel to Ukraine to see the war effort up close.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has regularly criticized President Biden of moving too slowly to arm Ukraine.
“We’ll continue to push President Biden and his administration to move faster to exert our leadership, invest in our own defense, equip our friends and keep America safe,” McConnell said on the Senate floor last month after a trip to allies and partners in Europe.
In January, the Republican leader criticized Biden for not moving “quickly enough to help Ukraine sustain counteroffensive or fully defend its cities against missile and drone attacks.”
Congressional leaders weren’t expecting to have a showdown over spending legislation until after they passed legislation to raise the debt limit — and the Treasury Department has yet to announce the “X date” by which Congress must act to avert a national default.
A Democratic aide pointed out that the administration is not likely to ask Congress to pass another Ukraine military assistance package before the end of September because lawmakers aren’t expected to take up any “must pass” bills except for debt limit legislation before the end of the fiscal year.
The White House has already ruled out negotiating any legislative deal to ride along with the debt limit increase.
Congress passed three Ukraine assistance packages in 2022.
Lawmakers added $13.6 billion for Ukraine to the $1.5 trillion omnibus passed in March of last year, $12.3 billion to a stopgap government funding measure Biden signed into law in September, and another $47 billion in Ukraine assistance to the $1.7 trillion omnibus that passed in December.
An administration official, who declined to comment on the authenticity or contents of the top secret Pentagon documents, said the administration has made Ukraine’s air defenses a top priority.
The Pentagon announced on April 4 it would provide up to $500 million in new weapons, including munitions for Patriot air defense systems and additional munitions for National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems.
“We have continually prioritized air defense systems since last fall and to strengthen Ukraine’s air defense capabilities,” the official said.
Source : The Hill