The committee’s version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, approved Wednesday night, also included $500 million to provide Ukraine with security assistance — including lethal weapons — against Russian-backed separatists. And it extends existing prohibitions on the Pentagon cooperating directly with the Russia military following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Additionally, the committee approved $4.6 billion for the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative, which seeks to bolster security along Europe’s eastern flank. Some $100 million of that will support a joint program in which the Pentagon is helping Baltic nations to “improve their resilience against and build their capacity to deter Russian aggression,” according to a summary released by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The decisions come after assessments by senior U.S. intelligence officials that the Russian government sought to sway the 2016 president election in favor of President Trump. The committee cited that effort as one of the reasons for its tougher stance toward Moscow.
“The committee believes that the United States must do more to deter Russian aggression, whether across its borders or in cyberspace,” the summary said. “Russia continues to occupy Crimea, destabilize Ukraine, threaten our [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] allies, violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and bolster the Assad regime in Syria. In an unparalleled attack on our core interests and values, Russia engaged in an active, purposeful campaign to undermine the integrity of American democracy and affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.”
A committee spokeswoman, Rachel Hoff, declined to comment on the summary Wednesday night. The committee is expected to release additional details about its decisions Thursday.
The establishment of the missile program could prove particularly sensitive. The INF Treaty, approved by officials in Washington and Moscow in 1987, called for the elimination of missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers.
The Obama administration determined in 2014 that Russia had violated that treaty, but the United States is believed to have continued adhering to it. The establishment of a new medium-range ground missile program may not violate the treaty itself, but it would open the door to the United States withdrawing from the treaty and building new medium-range missiles of its own. The treaty prohibits testing any short or “intermediate-range” missiles or building any stages or launchers for them.
The Obama administration also resisted providing Ukrainian forces with lethal aid to counter Russian-backed separatists, a decision that lawmakers including Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have taken issue with repeatedly.
The effort to prohibit software from a specific Russian company — Kaspersky Lab — follows concerns raised by U.S. officials that its ties to the Russian government could create a cybersecurity risk in the United States. But it’s largely symbolic: U.S. officials have said that is used in few, if any, places in the federal government.
The call for the Pentagon to supply information about hybrid warfare — in which conventional military actions are combined with secretive operations such as arming separatists from another country — comes after years of Russia using it, according to U.S. officials.