Top Congressional Leaders Urge President Obama to Extend ‘Lethal’ Aid to Ukraine

PHOTO: Ukrainian troops ride on an armored vehicle outside Artemivsk, Ukraine, while pulling out of Debaltseve, Feb. 18, 2015.Vadim Ghirda/AP Photo
Ukrainian troops ride on an armored vehicle outside Artemivsk, Ukraine, while pulling out of Debaltseve, Feb. 18, 2015. After weeks of relentless fighting, the embattled Ukrainian rail hub of Debaltseve fell to Russia-backed separatists, who hoisted a flag in triumph over the town.

House Speaker John Boehner and a bipartisan group of senior congressional leaders want President Obama to beef up Ukraine's military, including though the transfer of lethal defensive weapons systems, urging the president to utilize powers given to him by Congress late last year that he has not yet exercised but they believe will help fend off Russian aggression.

“In the wake of a cease-fire agreement that appears only to have consolidated Russian and separatist gains since the first Minsk agreement, we urge you to quickly approve additional efforts to support Ukraine’s efforts to defend its sovereign territory, including through the transfer of lethal, defensive weapons systems to the Ukrainian military,” a letter sent by the group of lawmakers today reads.

President Obama signed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act on Dec. 18, but noted in a statement that day that “the administration does not intend to impose sanctions under this law, but the act gives the administration additional authorities that could be utilized, if circumstances warranted.”

Now, Congress wants Obama to reconsider after his administration has been hesitant to provide military aid.

“Congress has already, with overwhelming bipartisan support, provided you with the authorities, resources, and political support to provide assistance, including lethal, to the government and people of Ukraine,” notes the letter, signed by eight Republicans and three Democrats. “We urge you in the strongest possible terms to use those authorities and resources to meet the specific and direct requests the government of Ukraine has made of your administration.”

Last week, Boehner and a bipartisan group of lawmakers met at the Capitol with Ukrainian lawmakers, including Andriy Parubiy, first vice-speaker of the Verkohona Rada, also known as the Supreme Council of Ukraine. The speaker's office said the group "had a productive discussion about their shared goals of peace, freedom, and security." The letter today is the first visible effort to follow up on that meeting.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addressed a joint meeting of the United States Congress last September, urging lawmakers to stand with Ukraine.

The letter is signed by Boehner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-California, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-California, Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-New Jersey, State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger, R-Texas, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.