June 14, 2024

Washington — Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), called on Congress to swiftly approve President Biden’s request for an additional $33 billion in security, economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine, warning parts of the country have a “desperate need” for the aid.

In an interview with “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Power said prior supplemental funding packages from Congress are being used to meet humanitarian needs in Ukraine, where the conflict with Russia could push millions of people into poverty and create a global food crisis.

“There are vast swaths of Ukraine that have been newly liberated by Ukrainian forces, where there is desperate need, everything from demining to trauma kits to food assistance, since markets are not back up and running,” Power told “Face the Nation.” “And so that assistance is flowing. And it’s also flowing to third countries that are feeling these huge cascading effects of Putin’s war, like the spiraling food prices, like the lower supplies of fertilizer, wheat, grain.”

While the Biden administration has used the money already approved by Congress to send weapons and humanitarian assistance into Ukraine as it continues to defend itself from Russia, Power said the burn rate is “very, very high as prices spiral” in Ukraine and elsewhere. 

“That’s why this supplemental is so important,” she said. “It entails both humanitarian assistance, $3 billion of humanitarian assistance to meet those global needs, which are famine-level, acute malnutrition needs. And it includes very significant direct budget support for the government of Ukraine, because what we want to ensure is that that government can continue providing services for its people.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, she continued, would like to see the Ukrainian government go bankrupt and not be able to meet the needs of its people.

“That would weaken Ukrainian solidarity, and Putin wants nothing more, of course, than to strengthen his bargaining hand here as he exerts military pressure and financial pressure at once,” Power said. “We can’t let that happen.”

Mr. Biden on Thursday requested the additional $33 billion for Ukraine, most of which would go to additional military and security assistance for the country and Eastern European allies. The president’s request also included $8.5 billion in economic assistance to help Kyiv maintain government functions, while $3 billion in humanitarian assistance would support resources to address worldwide food security needs.

The president said $3.5 billion in drawdown authority for Ukraine in a bipartisan omnibus spending package passed by Congress in March has nearly been exhausted, underscoring the need for lawmakers to swiftly approve more funding.

Power said the security assistance has been “the means by which the Ukrainians have been able to fight back and hang on as long as they have.”

“We have exerted all kinds of diplomatic pressure vis-à-vis the countries that have retained influence with Putin,” she said. “You know, everything from Turkey to Israel to India to China. And Putin doesn’t care and is defying the will of the world to allow civilians to be evacuated, to allow food and medicine to get in there. And it is a travesty.”

In the more than two months since Russia invaded Ukraine, its military has suffered numerous setbacks, including failing to seize control of Kyiv. But the war shifted to a new phase last month, with Putin’s forces focusing its efforts in Ukraine’s east. 

Roughly 100,000 people are believed to be trapped in Mariupol, a port city in southeastern Ukraine, and Power said humanitarian groups have been unable to get food into the city. But USAID is “indirectly” on the ground assisting human rights activists, journalists and others in Ukraine.

“We’re sort of turning our previous programming, which was very extensive all across Ukraine, into programming that is suited for this moment through our Ukrainian partners who are working inside Ukraine,” she said. “We are super eager to get back into Ukraine, to be able to see that work up close, and to be in a position again to channel, for example, the new supplemental funding we hope will be coming to those partners who urgently need it.”

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