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White House Bureaucracy Is Costing Ukrainian Lives, Senators Say
Jacqueline Feldscher | Defense One
After seeing the situation on the ground this weekend, as Ukrainian refugees flood across the Polish border to escape violence, 10 senators have a message for the White House: Go faster.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, led a group of 10 lawmakers who visited Germany and Poland to see American troops and observe the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine. At a press conference Monday, senators said they were touched by conversations with activists fighting for their country and single mothers fleeing Ukraine to keep their children safe, and they emphasized that aid is only helpful if it gets there in time.
“There’s a belief by Ukrainians that we are way too slow,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. “We are late now. We were late yesterday….A slow march of bureaucratic policies and efforts does not save lives. It costs lives.”
“Time is of the essence,” echoed Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, adding that he is seeking answers about how long it takes for aid to arrive in Ukraine after Congress passes legislation. “We don’t have weeks and months. We have hours and days. That is one of the things we are all committed to.”
Moran also asked for an opportunity to meet with President Joe Biden ahead of his departure Wednesday on a trip to Brussels and Poland, to explain what the bipartisan congressional delegation saw on their visit.
In a virtual address last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked Congress for additional weapons, including aircraft and surface-to-air missile systems, to counter Russian attacks. Hours after the speech, Biden met many of those demands in an $800-million military assistance package that included anti-aircraft systems, shoulder-mounted missiles to target tanks, small arms, ammunition, and drones.
But senators say the administration is still not doing enough, and they specifically urged the White House to send more lethal weapons, try Putin as a war criminal for his bombings of schools and hospitals, and more strictly impose sanctions on Russian officials. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., also said that all Western companies must stop doing business in Russia.
“We’re only doing a fraction of what we could be doing,” Marshall said. “We don’t need to debate it. We don’t need to talk about the pros and the cons. Get them the damn weapons.”
Multiple Republican senators urged Biden to complete the transfer of MiG-29 fighter fighter jets from Poland to Ukraine and give Warsaw updated F-16s to backfill its fleet of aircraft. Earlier this month, Poland offered to send their Soviet-era jets to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, making the United States responsible for facilitating their transfer to Ukraine. U.S. officials quickly rejected the idea, though it will almost certainly be discussed when Biden meets with Polish President Andrzej Duda on Saturday.
“We have to provide the Ukrainians with the means to prevent this bombardment,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “That means not only giving them the MiGs that the administration has held up, it means providing them with additional aircraft defenses.”
“We do not have time for endless debate and delay. If we delay, thousands more innocent Ukrainians will die,” she continued.
Other senators, however, said they understood the White House’s rationale in not sending the jets to Ukraine, which could further provoke Russia and may not be useful in winning the war.
“There is a lot we can be sending them immediately without having to make that ultimate decision on those particular aircraft,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. “The way they’re going to win this war is not through the air, it is through the ground, so they need the ground defenses.”