U.S. President Donald Trump is slow-walking $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine, Politico reported citing a senior administration official.
According to the source, Trump asked his national security team to review the funding program, known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, in order to ensure the money is being used in the best interest of the United States.
The senior administration official, who asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss internal matters, said the president wants to ensure U.S. interests are being prioritized when it comes to foreign assistance, and is seeking assurances that other countries are "paying their fair share." U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and national security adviser John Bolton are among the officials reviewing the Ukraine security funding.
"We are aware of an [Office of Management and Budget] hold on funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative," House Appropriations Committee spokesperson Evan Hollander said. "We have serious concerns about a freeze on these important appropriated funds, and we are urgently inquiring with the administration about why they are holding up these resources."
The House Armed Services Committee "is aware of the restriction, but have requested additional information about what it means and is applied to," an aide said.
For the 2019 fiscal year, lawmakers allocated $250 million in security aid to Ukraine, including money for weapons, training, equipment and intelligence support. Specifically, Congress set aside $50 million for weaponry.
Director of the Institute of Political Studies Sergei Markov, speaking to Vestnik Kavkaza, noted that Trump is interested in putting pressure on the new Ukrainian administration. "I think this is due to Bolton’s recent visit to Kiev. The most important task set for Bolton was to make Zelensky to order his team to work with the part of the U.S. law enforcement system, which is looking for dirt on Joe Biden, Trump's main rival for today," he explained.
There is also an element of the U.S. confrontation with China. "Trump may be unhappy with the fact that last week Chinese companies acquired a controlling stake in Ukraine's Motor Sich, which was opposed by Bolton by the way. Trump think it's strange that the regime, which receives numerous assistance from the U.S. government, is trying to flirt with the countries viewed by Washington as hostile," Sergei Markov added.
The director of the Institute of Political Studies drew attention to the fact that the U.S. position on Ukraine has now changed significantly since 2014. "The U.S. system of government in Ukraine, which worked effectively in 2014 and ensured the consolidation of the Poroshenko regime's repressive dictatorship, is now unbalanced. The previous ambassador was fired for intriguing against Trump, and the new ambassador is a classic diplomat. Head of the CIA residency in Ukraine Vozniak, instead of dealing with the problems of special services, lobbies for the promotion of his sister Ulyana Suprun to the post of Minister of Education in order to plunder the Ukrainian budget. Special Representative of the State Department Walker is accused of taking bribes from Poroshenko to lobby for his interests in Kiev. All this has become a systemic problem," he stressed.
The deputy head of the Council of the Russian Diplomats Association, Andrey Baklanov, offered a different vision of the reasons for this Trump's decision. "There is a big discussion in the Ukrainian media now on the issue of spending loan funds. I think the Americans want to show that they also advocate for putting things in order and optimizing expenses. In addition, my impression from the discussions with U.S. representatives at foreign conferences, was that a serious discussion is underway in the U.S. about how to build a military and military-technical policy in Ukraine in the future: whether it is worth making Ukraine a base or just being content with it as an annoying factor for Russia and strengthening nationalism in Ukrainian politics without a large-scale military penetration," he said.
"I think that now we need to clearly fix our position - that we will immediately respond to any attempts to use the nearby territories, including Ukraine, to create an additional threat to Russia's security. This is necessary because the infrastructure of hostile states, primarily the NATO bloc, has steadily approached our border for the last 30 years," the deputy head of the Council of the Russian Diplomats Association added.
"The U.S. general strategy is to put the territories of European countries, including Ukraine, under fire. The general scheme is the same: the U.S. wants tension in allied or semi-allied countries, to draw away Russia’s military and military-political efforts. As far as I can imagine, there are certain groups of hawks in the establishment who believe that Ukraine's martial law card should be played actively," Andrey Baklanov noted.