House committee approves $200 million for arming Ukraine

Reuters/Gleb Garanich
Citing an anti-Russia policy brief, US lawmakers approved $200 million for providing “lethal weapons of a defensive nature” to the Ukrainian government as part of the $600 billion Pentagon budget proposal for the fiscal year 2016.

The House Armed Services Committee passed its proposal for the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with a bipartisan vote of 60 to 2, in whatDefense Newsdescribed as a “marathon” session that ended around 4:30am on Thursday.

Section 1532 of the 498-page document calls for the US to provide assistance, “including training, equipment, lethal weapons of a defensive nature, logistics support, supplies and services, and sustainment to the military and national security forces of Ukraine” through the end of September 2016.

In addition to the $200 million allocated for the program, the proposal also authorizes the Pentagon to “accept and retain contributions, including in-kind contributions, from foreign governments.”

READ MORE: US House urges Obama to send arms to Ukraine

The bill says the purpose of the assistance is to back the government of Ukraine in “protecting and defending the Ukrainian people from attacks posed by Russian-backed separatists,” as well as “securing its sovereign territory against foreign aggressors” and “promoting the conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict.”

The NDAA sub-section dealing with weapons for Kiev specifically referenced a February 2015 report authored by a coalition of foreign policy think-tanks urging the US and NATO to resist “Russian aggression.”

Chaired by Texas Republican Mac Thornberry, the committee recognized that the White House has done much to provide “nonlethal security assistance” to Kiev, including a $75 million commitment announced last month, but nonetheless “believes that defensive weapons and training are also necessary to enhance the defense of Ukraine.”

Members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade arrived in Ukraine earlier this month as part of a training program aimed at Kiev’s military and security forces, prompting the Russian Foreign Ministry to question Washington’s motives.

“What will these foreign military experts teach them – how to continue killing those who speak Russian?” asked Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich.

Lawmakers have also pushed the White House for months to send lethal aid to Kiev. Last month, the House passed a non-binding resolution with a 348-48 vote, demanding lethal weapons aid for the “people of Ukraine to defend their sovereign territory from the unprovoked and continuing aggression of the Russian Federation.” However, the White House has remained silent on the issue.

The NDAA could be regarded as another attempt to influence the White House. Adam Smith (D-WA), the ranking Democrat on the committee, told Defense News that the bill has historically been a “vehicle for Congress to put its imprint on national security policy.”

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Most of the draft legislation deals with funding the various weapons procurement programs. Additionally, up to $429 million would be allocated to Kurdish and Iraqi Sunni forces fighting the so-called Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS).