WASHINGTON – Congress has passed a defense policy bill that authorizes up to $50 million in lethal military aid for Ukraine and mandates a White House response if Russia is deemed to be violating a key arms control treaty.
The White House said hours after the $607 billion bill was passed by the Senate on November 10 that President Barack Obama was likely to sign the legislation.
The House of Representatives passed a similar version of the bill last week.
Mr. Obama vetoed the previous bill over provisions that forbade the White House from moving the remaining prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba to U.S. prisons.
But he does not appear to be threatening a veto on the latest bill over the Guantanamo prisoner issue.
Among other things, the package appropriates $300 million to help Ukraine in its fight against Russian-backed separatists.
That includes $50 million for lethal weaponry such as anti-armor weapon systems, mortars, grenade launchers, small arms and ammunition.
The Obama administration has previously resisted calls to provide Ukraine with lethal aid, fearing that could provoke Russia.
The legislation also sets a deadline for the administration to tell Congress whether Russia continues to be in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which eliminated an entire class of nuclear-capable missiles from Europe in the late 1980s.
The State Department’s most recent arms control report released in June said Russia was testing a missile system that violated the treaty.
Moscow, for its part, has denied the allegations and accused the United States of deploying banned weapons systems.
The legislation also includes $715 million for Iraqi forces battling Islamic state militants.
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U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), co-chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, commented that key elements of his Ukraine security assistance amendment were passed by the Senate as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Sen. Portman originally introduced his amendment in June as part of his efforts to provide targeted and effective military assistance to Ukraine as it struggles to defend itself against Russian aggression.
“As Russian aggression continues in eastern Ukraine, NATO and the U.S. must provide sustained economic, political and military support to enable Ukraine to secure a democratic future,” Sen. Portman stated, according to a release from his office. “These provisions will help to ensure the U.S. is providing enough resources and equipment to allow Ukraine to defend itself. The president himself supports these provisions, and I am pleased that they will now become law.”