Biden Signs Ukraine Bill, Offers Long-Range Missiles Kyiv Sought

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden signed a $95 billion national security package into law and said assistance to Ukraine would begin to move within “hours,” capping off a bruising fight with Republicans over long-delayed assistance for Kyiv and other besieged US allies.

Most Read from Bloomberg

Biden’s signature clears the way for the US to quickly resume arms shipments for Kyiv, whose efforts to repel Russia’s invasion have faltered amid the eight-month funding impasse. Even with refreshed stocks of weapons and ammunition, Ukraine could struggle to retake the initiative after being driven to the breaking point from months of Russian attacks.

“I’m making sure the shipments start right away. In the next few hours — literally in a few hours — we are going to begin sending equipment to Ukraine for air defense munitions, artillery for rocket systems, and armored vehicles,” Biden said Wednesday at the White House.

The US said the initial tranche of aid is valued at $1 billion and would include air defense interceptors, artillery rounds, armored vehicles, and anti-tank weapons — the first transfer from $61 billion in new funding. And Ukrainian and US officials acknowledged for the first time that the assistance includes the longer-range version of a tactical ballistic missile system known as ATACMS, which Ukraine has long desired in a push to strike deeper into occupied territory.

“During recent days we were actively working with our American friends — at all levels — to fill in this package with those weapons our warriors need,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Wednesday in his regular address to the nation. “From ATACMS and artillery, from anti-tank weapons and missiles for HIMARS, to needed air defense and equipment. Now we will do everything to compensate that half a year which was spent in debates and doubts.”

The new longer-range ATACMS system was secretly approved for use by Biden in February, according to a senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The US has restricted use of long-range ATACMS to within Ukrainian sovereign territory, the official said. The missiles were used for the first time in recent days to strike Russian troops in southeastern Ukraine, the New York Times reported.

The new law also empowers Biden to seize an estimated $5 billion in Russian assets in US banks and repurpose them to assist Ukraine. Critics have argued any unilateral move to do that without allies would weaken the dollar and hurt demand for US Treasury bonds.

Biden also addressed aid for Israel included in the package, calling his “commitment” to the country “ironclad.” The president’s support for Israel has drawn criticism from allies on the left over the humanitarian toll in Gaza from the military campaign to root out Hamas.

“I will always make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Iran,” Biden said. He added the law “significantly increases humanitarian assistance” with $1 billion for the people of Gaza, and demanded Israel allow the flow of aid to those who are “suffering badly.”

Read More: US Senate Passes Ukraine Aid, Arms Shipments to Resume in Days

The package also includes money for Taiwan, as well as language that would ban the popular TikTok social media app in the US unless ByteDance Ltd divests, a provision the China-based parent has vowed to fight in court. Biden did not mention the TikTok provision in his remarks.

By signing the bill into law, Biden sets the initial divestiture deadline for Jan. 19 — a day before the next presidential inauguration. He will have the ability to extend that deadline by an additional 90 days.

That would take the decision out of the hands of former President Donald Trump if he prevails against Biden in November’s general election. It gives the administration more leverage to force a sale and discourages TikTok from holding out for Trump, who says he opposes a ban.

Read more: What a TikTok Ban in the US Would Mean for the App: QuickTake

Republican lawmakers who have become increasingly skeptical of US foreign aid, cheered on by Trump, stymied prior funding proposals by demanding immigration changes be attached that were unpalatable to Democrats. That, in turn, hampered Biden’s effort to aid Ukraine’s war effort.

Yet that could lead to repercussions for US House Speaker Mike Johnson, who is facing calls to resign or be ousted from his right flank over his decision to move a funding package.

Read More: Russia Asset Seizure Law Spurs Yellen Praise, Angst Over Dollar

Biden thanked Johnson for helping pass the law, even as he bemoaned the months-long fight to secure aid.

“The path to my desk was a difficult path - it should have been easier and it should have gotten there sooner,” Biden said, calling the package “directly in the United States’s national security interest.”

Earlier: TikTok Ban Looms With Biden Poised to Start 270-Day Countdown

“Some of our MAGA Republican friends reject that notion. But what this vote makes clear is that there is a bipartisan consensus for that kind of American leadership,” he added.

Ukrainian forces have suffered territorial losses in the eastern part of the country, and constant Russian bombardment has cratered energy infrastructure and population centers. Putin’s military is now targeting Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, with a bombing campaign that Ukrainian and Western officials see as an attempt to force the evacuation of civilians.

--With assistance from Erik Wasson and Daryna Krasnolutska.

(Updates throughout beginning in fourth paragraph)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.