Defense & National Security — Biden digs in for fight against Putin

President Biden is doubling down on US commitments to Ukraine while digging in for a long-term fight against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

We’ll share the steps the US has taken to this moment and it’s latest commitments to Kyiv, plus a new Navy investigation into the deaths of seven sailors and Biden’s push to address veterans’ toxic exposure.

This is Defense & National Securityyour nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Biden stresses Ukraine commitment amid Putin fight

The high-stakes visit to Kyiv on Sunday by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is the latest show of Washington’s powerful commitment to Kyiv.

The risky trip, the details of which were kept closely guarded by the White House until both officials were out of the country, underscored the administration’s dedication to giving Ukraine political and military support as its war with Russia moves into its third month.

“We had an opportunity to demonstrate directly our strong ongoing support for the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people,” Blinken said Monday in Poland after returning from Kyiv. “This was, in our judgment, an important moment to be there to have face- to-face conversations in detail.”

More weapons promised: Biden is looking to increase military assistance to Ukraine, building on the more than $3.4 billion delivered since Feb. 24, when Russia invaded its neighbor.

Blinken and Austin said the administration has approved a $165 million sale to Ukraine for non-US made ammunition and is preparing more than $322 million in foreign military financing — money that will allow Kyiv to buy weapons directly from manufacturers.

Those commitments would drive US security assistance to Ukraine since the invasion began to more than $3.8 billion.

Other efforts: Biden also is expected to ask Congress to approve another supplemental aid package to Ukraine, building on $13.6 billion in emergency spending for Ukraine included in a more than $1 trillion government spending bill that Biden signed in March.

The president also appointed retired Army Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff as the lead coordinator of security assistance for Ukraine, a role that streamlines communications between US defense firms, the administration and allies and partners to make sure weapons get to the war-torn country.

The president also announced the nomination of a US ambassador to Ukraine — a position that has been empty for three years — and Blinken said embassy staff are preparing to return to Kyiv.

Read the full story here.

US sending diplomats back to Ukraine

Following Austin and Blinken’s trip, the Biden administration said it intends to return its diplomats to Ukraine in the coming days, with the goal of reopening its embassy in Kyiv over the next few weeks.

American diplomats fled across the border as the Russian military moved in and surrounded Kyiv, but Blinken told reporters that those officials would soon be returning.

“We will have American diplomats back in Ukraine starting next week,” Blinken told reporters. “They’ll then start the process of looking at how we actually reopen the embassy itself in Kyiv.”

“I think that will take place over a couple of weeks, would be my expectation. We’re doing it deliberately, we’re doing it carefully, we’re doing it with the security of our personnel foremost in mind, but we’ re doing it.”

Read more here.

NAVY PROBES AIRCRAFT CARRIER DEATHS

The Navy is opening an investigation into the deaths of seven sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, including three who were found dead in one week.

“Admiral Daryl Caudle, commander, US Fleet Forces Command, has directed Rear Admiral John Meier, commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, to investigate and assess the reported deaths of Sailors assigned to the USS George Washington,” said Capt. Sarah Self-Kyler , a spokesperson for US Fleet Forces Command, told The Hill in a statement on Monday.

What will be examined: The investigation will include correlations, command climate and culture issues as well as the systemic relationships between them.

Caudle also asked his staff to work with Naval Air Force Atlantic, the ship, and other Navy stakeholders to “better understand and assess the efficacy of the existing Total Sailor Fitness programs,” Self-Kyler said.

A stark figure: Seven deaths have been reported on the George Washington over the past year, Lt. Cmdr. Commander Robert Myers, a spokesperson for Naval Air Forces Atlantic, told The Hill in a statement.

Four of those deaths were reported last year, and the other three were reported this month when three sailors were found dead within a week of each other. One sailor was found unresponsive on April 15 onboard the ship, and the two other sailors had been found at locations off base on April 9 and 10.

Of the seven deaths, one has been confirmed as suicide and three other apparent suicides are under investigation. Another death was attributed to post-COVID-19 complications, while another was determined to be health-related. The cause of the seventh death is undetermined .

Read the full story here.

Biden presses Congress over vets’ toxic exposures

President Biden urged Congress to pass legislation addressing toxic exposures in veterans after announcing that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) is taking action to help those who suffer harmful effects from having been exposed to substances.

In a statement on Monday, Biden announced that the VA is issuing a rule that would propose expanding health benefits to veterans suffering from nine rare respiratory cancers.

Biden said that America agrees that supporting veterans is widely supported “no matter where we live or who we voted for in the last election.”

Earlier: Biden first previewed the VA’s action in his State of the Union address last month, when he announced that the agency would take steps to expand care for veterans who suffer from nine rare cancers related to toxic chemicals.

An update: In a statement announcing the rule on Monday, the agency said it determined that there is “biological plausibility between airborne hazards and carcinogenesis of the respiratory tract — and the unique circumstances of these rare cancers warrant a presumption of service connection.”

Some background: Burn pits were often used in areas like Southwest Asia and Afghanistan for open-air combustion of trash and other solid waste products. The VA believes that about 3.5 million veterans were exposed to these burn pits and qualify for care.

The Senate passed the Health Care for Burn Pit Victims Act in mid-February, which would expand VA health care for combat veterans who served after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and were exposed to toxic burn pits.

That legislation extends the period of eligibility for care from five years to 10 years following discharge and includes training on toxic exposures for VA employees, mandates clinical toxic exposure screenings and boosts federal research on the topic.

Read the full story here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The Potomac Officers Club will hold its “Third Annual CIO Summit,” with numerous defense and administration officials at 7 am

  • The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association will hold its “2022 TechNet Cyber ​​Conference,” at 9 am

  • The Atlantic Council will host a virtual discussion with former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and former US Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, at 9:30 am

  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on “The Health of the Defense Industrial Base,” with Undersecretary of Defense of acquisition and sustainment Ellen Lord, at 9:30 am

  • A Senate Appropriations subcommittee will hold a hearing on “A Review of the President’s Fiscal Year 2023 Funding Request and Budget Justification for the Missile Defense Agency,” with Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. Jon Hill, at 10 am

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to give a review of the FY 2023 State Department budget request, at 10 am

  • A Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee will hold a hearing on the “Mistreatment of Military Families in Privatized Housing,” at 10 am

  • Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will also speak at Wilson Center at 2 pm

  • A Senate Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on Navy and Marine Corps investment programs in review of the Defense Authorization Request for FY2023 and the Future Years Defense Program, at 2:30 pm

  • The Atlantic Council will host a talk on “Transatlanticism in a Time of Crisis: The View From Prague,” with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic Jan Lipavský, at 4 pm

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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