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Ukraine asks U.S. for $2 billion per month in emergency economic aid

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen says the administration is working on asking Congress for more funding

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen speaks during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in April. Ukraine is asking the Biden administration for $2 billion per month through June to help cover its expenses. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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A top Ukrainian official says the country is asking the Biden administration to provide at least $2 billion per month in emergency economic aid, arguing that failure to deliver the money could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis caused by Russia’s invasion.

Appearing in Washington for meetings with senior U.S. officials, Ukrainian Finance Minister Sergii Marchenko said that the country is seeking a total of at least $5 billion per month in international assistance — with about $2 billion of it coming from the United States — to cover the country’s immediate needs for April, May and June. Beyond these billions in aid, an additional longer-term request is expected in the future to help Ukraine recover from what is estimated to be far greater damage from the war.

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“We need to cover this gap right now to attract the necessary finance and win this war,” Marchenko told The Washington Post in an interview.

The request from the Ukrainians comes as lawmakers return to Washington facing a crunch of new spending fights. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen told reporters on Thursday that the administration is working on sending Congress an additional request for aid to Ukraine, but she declined to say how much.

The ties between U.S. and Ukrainian economic officials have deepened over the course of the war. Marchenko attended a private dinner hosted by Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo on Thursday, which included representatives from top American firms such as Goldman Sachs and the Business Roundtable. Yellen also met with Marchenko and Denys Shmyhal, the country’s prime minister, and participated in a walkout of a Group of 20 meeting last week when Russia’s finance minister started speaking.

The United States has already provided roughly $1 billion in economic support to Ukraine since the war began in late February. The administration also announced last week that it was making available $500 million in aid to Ukraine from a previous aid package approved by Congress in March, and President Biden has announced separate tranches of U.S. military aid to the country.

“We’ve got to find ways to meet Ukraine’s needs. And on our part, it will involve going back to Congress with a supplemental request,” Yellen said. “We were inspired by their courage and stand with them and will do everything we can to pull our resources to support the needs that are identified.”

Ukraine’s request comes days after Biden said he would ask Congress to approve additional assistance to the war-torn country. A White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said it would be a top priority for the administration to “secure funds to keep the aid flowing to the Ukrainian people,” adding that the president is also seeking another tranche of funds to bolster the U.S. response to the coronavirus. A roughly $10 billion pandemic package remains bogged down in the Senate.

Lawmakers are likely to support the funding for Ukraine on a bipartisan basis. Because of the war, the Ukrainian government can currently only raise tax revenue worth 54 percent of its expenses — a figure that excludes military costs, Marchenko said. Ukrainian officials estimate that at least 7 million people are internally displaced, with an additional 10 million affected by fighting on the front lines. More than 5 million Ukrainians have also fled the country. Shymhal told CBS News on Sunday that in March alone the Ukrainian government spent $1.1 billion for humanitarian needs of Ukrainians who had been displaced.

Marchenko said Ukraine is seeking the economic support to continue to pay for pensions, salaries for health care and education officials, and other humanitarian needs. Ukraine could print more money to cover some of these expenses, but that would lead to spiking inflation at a time when the war has already disrupted the trade of basic goods into the country. Marchenko said he had shared government projections with Treasury Department officials but declined to provide them to The Post.

Some congressional lawmakers and Ukrainian officials have pushed for Treasury to give Russia’s frozen central bank reserves to Ukraine. Those assets total in the tens of billions and could amount to a substantial sum to assist in the country’s postwar reconstruction. Yellen told reporters that the United States “ought to be pursuing” looking to Russia to fund Ukraine’s reconstruction, but she added that such a measure may require new legislation. “I wouldn’t want to do so lightly, and it’s something that I think our coalition and partners would need to feel comfortable with and be supportive of,” she added.

Still, Ukrainian officials say they have found U.S. officials supportive of their requests, particularly compared with at the war’s outset. “They are more cooperative; I see that they are trying to find some solution for us,” Marchenko said. “It’s very good we’re seeing support from the United States. It’s becoming greater and greater.”