US Senate Approves Expanded Military Aid to Ukraine  

The U.S. Senate’s version of the annual authorization for American armed forces earmarks $300 million in military aid to Ukraine, $50 million more than the amount allocated for 2019. 
 
The version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that senators approved this week budgets $750 billion for the Pentagon for fiscal 2020, which begins in October, up from $716 billion this year. 
 
Of the expanded U.S. military assistance to strengthen Ukraine’s defense capabilities, only $100 million is designated for lethal weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles and anti-ship weapons for coastal defense. 
 

FILE – Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is pictured inside the U.S. Capitol, Nov. 16, 2016.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who authored the Ukraine aid amendment, said the bill contains language that aims to limit U.S.-Russian cooperation until Russia frees 24 Ukrainian sailors captured in international waters of the Kerch Strait off Crimea last November. 
 
“The legislation … demonstrates our commitment to stand with the people of Ukraine and the international community in calling for the release of the illegally detained sailors who were fired on and captured by Russian forces in international waters on November 25, 2018,” Portman, who co-chairs the Senate Ukraine Caucus, said Thursday on the chamber floor. 
 
Portman said the language of his amendment makes the sailors’ release “a condition for the U.S. military cooperation with Russia.” 

‘Firm stance’

“We need to take the firm stance against Russia’s blatant disregard for the international law,” he said, referring to the Kerch attack and Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the first forcible seizure of territory in Europe since World War II. The annexation triggered war in Ukraine’s east and multiple rounds of U.S.- and EU-led sanctions that have since wreaked havoc on Russia’s economy. 
 
Last month, the Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea called on Russia to release the sailors immediately and allow their return to Ukraine. 
 
Russia does not recognize the tribunal’s jurisdiction in the matter and did not send representatives to the hearing. 
 

FILE – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks at a press conference in Paris, June 17, 2019.

On Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy issued a plea to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to free the sailors. 
 
The 973-page bill, which comes amid fulsome debate on President Donald Trump’s latitude to take military action against Iran, also includes a new round of sanctions against North Korea and provisions that target China on issues ranging from technology transfers to the sale of synthetic opioids. 

Arctic port
 
The bill also directs the Pentagon and Maritime Administration “to identify and designate a new strategic port in the Arctic, a move meant to counter Russia’s presence at the top of the world,” as reported by Virginia-based Defense News.

The Senate’s NDAA, passed 86-8, differs from a House version, most likely requiring the formation of a bicameral committee to craft a unified bill that can pass both chambers. 

That compromise version, expected later this year, must pass both the Senate and House before Trump can sign it into law. 

This story originated in VOA’s Ukrainian service.

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