Joe Biden seeks another $33bn in US aid and military spending for Ukraine

President also asks Congress for powers to seize and sell Russian oligarchs' assets

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President Joe Biden has asked the US Congress for a massive increase in spending on Ukrainian defence and humanitarian aid, with a $33 billion request that also seeks greater powers to seize and sell Russian oligarchs' assets to help fund the war effort.

Thursday's funding request includes over $20bn for weapons, ammunition and other military assistance, as well as $8.5bn in direct economic assistance to the government and $3bn in humanitarian aid.

"We need this bill to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom," Mr Biden said at the White House after signing the request on Thursday.

"The cost of this fight - it's not cheap - but caving to aggression is going to be more costly."

The request is significantly higher than the $13.6bn in aid Congress approved last month along bipartisan lines. Mr Biden said the US has spent nearly all of the funding provided by Congress.

"We either back Ukrainian people as they defend their country or we stand by as Russia continue their atrocities and aggression in Ukraine," Mr Biden said.

The White House has said the conflict in Ukraine is shifting, with Russian forces refocusing their efforts on the country’s eastern regions after failing to quickly seize the capital of Kyiv.

Biden administration officials have predicted that the repositioning could portend a bloody and prolonged battle, and said Ukrainians will require different kinds of weaponry and other assistance than the US and allies provided early in the conflict.

Mr Biden is also seeking the ability to seize Russian oligarchs' assets, and distribute the proceeds to support Ukraine.

“We’re going to seize their yachts” and other “ill-begotten gains,” Mr Biden said. “These are bad guys.”

Part of the proposal includes expanding the definition of "racketeering activity" under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (Rico) Act. This would allow the US Department of Justice to build cases against those who seek to evade sanctions.

The president also wants to give prosecutors more time to build such cases by extending the statute of limitations on money laundering prosecutions to 10 years, instead of five.

Mr Biden also seeks to make it unlawful for any person to "knowingly or intentionally possess proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government", the White House said in a statement.

The White House said co-ordinated efforts by the Treasury, State and Justice departments would permit the flow of funds from seized assets to be streamlined.

In a virtual address to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank leaders last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for the proceeds of sanctioned property and Central Bank reserves to be used to compensate Ukraine for its losses.

He said that frozen Russian assets “have to be used to rebuild Ukraine after the war, as well as to pay for the losses caused to other nations".

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said at the time congressional approval would be needed to authorise those actions.

The US and its allies to date have frozen $30 billion of assets held by people with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including $7bn in yachts, helicopters, real estate and artwork, the White House said.

Also on Thursday, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly backed legislation that will make it easier to export military equipment to Ukraine, reviving the "Lend-Lease Act" that helped defeat Hitler during World War Two.

The House passed the "Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022" by 417 to 10, three weeks after it sailed through the Senate with unanimous support. It next goes to the White House for Mr Joe Biden to sign into law.

The measure revives a World War Two-era program that allowed Washington to lend or lease military equipment to US allies. In this case, it will help those affected by Russia's invasion, such as Poland and other eastern European countries as well as Ukraine.

The Biden administration's latest efforts come as the US's military aid has topped $3bn since Russia launched what it called a "special military option" in February to "denazify" Ukraine.

- Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: April 29, 2022, 6:58 AM