Money to help Ukraine fight a war against Russia has sparked a political battle in D.C.
After weeks of speculation, accusation, and consternation, President Trump will release $250 million in aid to Ukraine that had been held up, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, announced on Thursday.
“I spoke with the president last night to ask him to release the security funds for Ukraine, and I want to thank him for doing so,” Portman said in a statement. “With this funding we will provide vital assistance to help the Ukrainian military continue on their path of increasing their ability to defend their homeland against any threat.”
The status of the funds had been a matter of dispute and lawmaker scrutiny. On Aug. 28, Politico reported that the Administration was “slow-walking” the aid that had been granted to Ukraine under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
“The delays come amid questions over Trump’s approach to Russia, after a weekend in which the president repeatedly seemed to downplay Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine and pushed for Russia to be reinstated into the Group of Seven,” Politico observed.
The story quoted Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., saying, “The bigger problem is that Trump is once again showing himself to be an asset to Russia.”
The plot turned darker on Sept. 5 when the Washington Post editorial board said that the board had been “reliably informed” that the delay was an attempt to strong-arm Ukraine’s government into digging up information on the Biden family.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s attorney, has been urging the Ukranian government to investigate the activities of Hunter Biden, who was on the board of Ukranian gas interest Burisma Holdings in the spring of 2014 at the same time that his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, was urging the government of Ukraine to dismiss Viktor Shokin, Ukraine’s top prosecutor, who was investigating the firm.
One Russia watcher close to Biden was alarmed by the prospect that the holdup in aid was a coercion attempt from the Trump administration.
“As someone who helped design the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, I know how important it is for Ukraine to receive the equipment and training provided for by USAI on time and on schedule,” said Michael Carpenter, who served in the Obama administration as deputy assistant defense secretary with responsibility for Russia and Ukraine. “Ukraine is still at war with Russia and our assistance helps strengthen its ability to defend itself against Russia’s sophisticated weaponry. In the past, for example, we’ve given Ukraine counter-battery radars, night vision devices and other critical equipment. So unfortunately the political games Trump is playing will only embolden and encourage Russia in its war against Ukraine. It’s shameful that he would do this just to try to gain an advantage over his political opponents.”
Carpenter is currently senior director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington.
Shokin was dismissed from his prosecutor’s job in April 2016. That came as no surprise to his critics, which included European officials, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the time, and Ukranian anti-corruption activists who criticized Shokin as an ineffective prosecutor whose tenure was marked by corruption. Shokin’s successor, Yuriy Lutsenko, has said that there is no evidence of anything improper in the Bidens’ activities in the country.
Nevertheless, Giuliani had for months been pushing for an investigation into Biden, who is vying to challenge Trump in the 2020 election. The Washington Post’s editorial board described the suspension in funds as a naked attempt to “meddle” in the election.
On Monday, the House committees on Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform announced that they would launch investigations into Trump’s interactions with the Ukrainian government related to Giuliani and Biden.
“We have been deeply concerned about it ever since this first report that Giuliani was going to Ukraine to try and seek that government’s help in the Presidential race,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, told Defense One on Wednesday. “We have made it official now that we are pursuing this as an investigation,” said Schiff. “We need to expose the facts.”
Portman’s announcement was welcomed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla.
“I commend the Administration for providing critical security assistance to Ukraine to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity and push back against Russian aggression,” Inhofe said in a statement. “The Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative is the cornerstone of American support for the security and stability of Ukraine and the region, and I look forward to continuing our commitment in the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization bill.”
Schiff’s office did not immediately respond to questions about what the release of funds means for the investigation.
In a separate development on Thursday, R. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary for political-military affairs at the U.S. State Department, said that State would also be moving forward with $140 million in aid for Ukraine apart from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. “We have done formal notification on our security assistance accounts for the Ukraine. We’re talking about in the ballpark of $140 million in security assistance for Ukraine. We’ve done formal notification to Congress,” he said at a Defense Writers Group breakfast.
Marcus Weisgerber and Katie Bo Williams contributed to this report.