The U.S. legislators group known as Congressional Progressive Caucus retracted a letter that was sent on Monday calling for U.S. President Biden to pursue a diplomatic end to Russia’s war on Ukraine, saying it was not properly vetted prior to its release.
Thirty members of the roughly 100-member group of Democratic legislators signed it.
Media reports said:
“The letter was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the caucus, said in a statement Tuesday. Jayapal said she accepted responsibility for the error and reiterated her support for Ukraine’s war effort.
The message was criticized.
“We are under no illusions regarding the difficulties involved in engaging Russia, given its outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine and its decision to make additional illegal annexations of Ukrainian territory,” the letter read. “However, if there is a way to end the war while preserving a free and independent Ukraine, it is America’s responsibility to pursue every diplomatic avenue to support such a solution that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine.
“Such a framework would presumably include incentives to end hostilities, including some form of sanctions relief, and bring together the international community to establish security guarantees for a free and independent Ukraine that are acceptable for all parties, particularly Ukrainians,” it continued. “The alternative to diplomacy is protracted war, with both its attendant certainties and catastrophic and unknowable risks.”
On Monday evening, the caucus’s former chair, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., responded to a tweet saying the letter had “big problems,” writing, “Hear you. First, this was written in July & I have no idea why it went out now. Bad timing. Second, it was trying to get to a cease-fire & diplomacy as others were banging war drums, not criticizing Biden. Third, I’ve supported the efforts & will continue. Over analyzed by some.”
One of the letter’s signatories, Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., said Tuesday morning that she had signed the letter in early summer and would not have done so now.
“Timing in diplomacy is everything,” Jacobs said. “I signed this letter on June 30, but a lot has changed since then. I would not sign it today. We have to continue supporting Ukraine economically and militarily to give them the leverage they need to end this war.”
The letter comes as Republicans have indicated they will reduce — if not cut off — funding for Ukraine’s war effort if they take control of Congress next year. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Punchbowl News last week, “I think people are gonna to be sitting in a recession, and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.”
Jayapal attempted to draw a contrast with this position in her retraction statement Tuesday.
“Because of the timing, our message is being conflated by some as being equivalent to the recent statement by Republican Leader McCarthy threatening an end to aid to Ukraine if Republicans take over,” she said. “The proximity of these statements created the unfortunate appearance that Democrats, who have strongly and unanimously supported and voted for every package of military, strategic, and economic assistance to the Ukrainian people, are somehow aligned with Republicans who seek to pull the plug on American support for President Zelensky and the Ukrainian forces.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she concluded. “Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too, after Ukrainian victory. The letter sent yesterday, although restating that basic principle, has been conflated with GOP opposition to support for the Ukrainians’ just defense of their national sovereignty. As such, it is a distraction at this time, and we withdraw the letter.”
Jayapal has emerged as a top figure in Congress during the Biden administration, supporting the White House in its full domestic agenda as the party’s moderate wing often undercut negotiations. In February, Politico reported she was considering a bid for a party leadership position in next year’s Congress.
Moscow Calls On UNSC To Probe Biolabs In Ukraine
Russia has called on the UN Security Council to establish a commission to investigate alleged violations of the convention prohibiting the production or use of biological weapons by Ukraine and the U.S.
Moscow’s ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, circulated a draft resolution ahead of a meeting set for Thursday, along with “a variety of documents and evidence that shed light on the true nature of military biological activities of the U.S. and Ukraine on the Ukrainian territory.”
Russia was forced to invoke Article VI of the convention to raise the issues with the Security Council after its repeated inquiries were largely ignored by Washington and Kiev, who “have not provided necessary explanations nor have they taken immediate measures to remedy the situation,” Nebenzia explained.
“The data analysis gives evidence of non-compliance by the American and Ukrainian sides with the provisions” of the BWC, Nebenzia said.
Moscow has alleged that the two counties conducted secretive, joint biological research on Ukrainian soil, claiming it had obtained incriminating evidence of those activities during the ongoing military operation. The Russian Defense Ministry has gradually released said materials to the public in batches since March.
Last month, Russia convened a meeting of BCW member states in Geneva, which failed to provide any tangible result, with delegates from 35 out of 89 nations either dismissing the Russian claims or expressing support for the kind of research the U.S. and Ukraine were conducting, according to the U.S. State Department. Only seven nations expressed support for Russia: Belarus, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Syria and Venezuela.
In the wake of the meeting, Moscow proposed amendments to the BWC, floating three ideas to reinforce the landmark international agreement and make it more legally binding for its parties. Namely, Russia called for negotiations on a “legally binding protocol,” an “effective verification mechanism” and a “scientific advisory committee” within the group.
Russia also proposed making the control mechanisms more transparent, with additional “confidence-building measures,” suggesting BWC participants must be obliged to declare their “activities in the biological sphere outside the national territory.”
The U.S. and Ukraine have dismissed Russia’s bioweapons claims as disinformation and a conspiracy theory. Back in June, the Pentagon published the ‘Fact Sheet on WMD Threat Reduction Efforts with Ukraine, Russia and Other Former Soviet Union Countries’.
The U.S. military claimed that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington has “worked collaboratively to improve Ukraine’s biological safety, security, and disease surveillance for both human and animal health,” by providing support to “45 peaceful Ukrainian laboratories, health facilities, and disease diagnostic sites over the last two decades.” These programs have allegedly focused on “improving public health and agricultural safety measures at the nexus of nonproliferation.”
Do Not Return Home This Winter, Ukrainians Abroad Told
Ukrainians who have fled the country amid Russia’s military offensive should not return home before spring, Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said on Tuesday. Staying away would protect them from unnecessary risk and help the country “survive” its deepening energy crisis, she added.
Speaking on national TV on Tuesday, Vereshchuk claimed Russia was losing on the battlefield and had therefore turned to “terrorizing the civilian population” by targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
“I will ask you not to return, we need to survive the winter. Unfortunately, the power grids will not survive, you see what Russia is doing. You do not need to do this. If you have the opportunity to stay, it is better to spend the winter abroad,” Vereshchuk said.
She said she would like to see everyone return in the spring to rebuild Ukrainian cities and villages together.
“The situation will worsen, and we have to survive this winter,” she added.
According to a poll published by the Kiev-based Razumkov center in late August, more than 90% of Ukrainian refugees plan to return home at some point. More than 88% of those intending to return plan to live in the same region where they lived prior to the beginning of the Russian attack on February 24.
Ukraine has been experiencing regular blackouts since Moscow launched massive strikes against its critical infrastructure, including power stations on October 10, accusing Kiev of terrorist attacks on Russian infrastructure. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has since asked his compatriots to ease pressure on the struggling energy system by limiting electricity use between 5pm and 11pm.
On Monday, the head of the state-owned energy giant Naftogaz, Yuri Vitrenko, said that Ukraine was facing “the worst winter in history,” marked by “constant power outages.”
He explained that recent Russian airstrikes have also hit oil refineries and destroyed “about 40% of the power generation plants.”
On the same day, the Ukrainian online retailer Rozetka revealed that the last two weeks had seen a sharp increase in demand for “goods needed in the event of an energy crisis,” such as potbelly stoves, power banks, candles and gas burners.
EU’s Plan for Russian Assets
The EU seeks to outright confiscate Russian assets rather than just freeze them, but the bloc has yet to lay the legal groundwork for doing so, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday.
The official delivered her remarks during a conference devoted to the rebuilding of Ukraine, which was attended by a number of Kiev’s prominent international donors.
“Our aim is not only to freeze, but to seize the assets,” she said, although cautioning that establishing a legal base for such a move is “not trivial.”
According to von der Leyen, the EU has created a task force that includes various international experts “not only to map out what has been frozen,” but also to see what the legal preconditions would be for seizing Russian assets and using them for the reconstruction of Ukraine.
“The will is there, but legally it is not trivial, there is still a lot of work to reach that goal,” she reiterated, noting that the EU adheres to the rule of law, and therefore this process has to be “legally sound.”
Responding to von der Leyen’s remarks, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that in reality the EU Commission president wants Russia to “exhaust itself being dragged through courts” while trying to retrieve its funds.
During the conference, von der Leyen stated that the World Bank had estimated the cost of the damage to Ukraine at €350 billion ($345 billion). Once Russia launched its military campaign in Ukraine in late February, a multinational task force froze $30 billion in funds belonging to Russian individuals, as well as $300 billion in assets of Russia’s central bank.
Russia strongly criticized the freezing of the funds, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying that the West had essentially committed theft.
Western officials have repeatedly expressed the desire to confiscate Russian assets to benefit Ukraine. However, in July, during another conference on rebuilding Ukraine, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis opposed such a move, arguing that it would establish a dangerous precedent.
“You have to ensure the citizens are protected against the power of the state. This is what we call liberal democracies,” he said at the time.
Kiev’s Aid Need: $5 Billion A Month
Ukraine needs between four and five billion dollars a month to keep its budget afloat, Alexander Rodnyansky, an aide to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, told German media group Funke on Tuesday. According to the official, Kiev expects the EU to cover roughly half of that sum.
“We believe that Germany could take on about $500 million a month,” Rodnyansky said, adding that it would be especially necessary in 2023 “The state has to function, pensions have to be paid.”
Kiev also hopes to get around $2 billion per month from the EU as a whole, the German outlet added. It is unclear if this sum would balloon further in the future, since Ukraine expects its inflation to reach 24.5% in 2022, according to the nation’s central bank.
The presidential aide accused Russia of opening “an economic front” by targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. Moscow has already succeeded in “chocking off Ukrainian electricity exports,” he said, adding that Ukrainians would face “a very big crisis” this winter and would urgently need “thermal clothing, emergency power and diesel generators” among other goods.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck already called for an “urgent winter aid” package for Ukraine, which would include power generators, transformers and network repair equipment. Germany itself is facing an acute energy crunch and is attempting to limit consumption amid high gas and energy prices caused partly by the EU’s drive to reduce its dependency on Russian energy imports.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmigal also put the total cost of Ukraine’s infrastructure recovery at around $750 billion on Monday. According to Funke, this sum includes the costs of developing and modernizing areas that have not been affected by Kiev’s conflict with Russia.
The World Bank and the U.S. believe the real cost of rebuilding Ukraine is half as high and amounts to around $350 billion, the media group reported.
On Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the German-Ukrainian Economic Forum, Ukraine’s transport and logistics infrastructure should be rebuilt in a way that would allow it to be quickly connected to that of the bloc.
BJ Will Lobby For Ukraine In U.S.
Citing people close to Boris Johnson the Financial Times reported on Monday: The former UK PM intends to use his political weight to ensure that the U.S. remains fully committed to aiding Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
This comes after Republicans have indicated that assistance to the country could be curbed should they win the midterm elections in November.
Johnson has long been adamant about backing Kiev. The former prime minister now wants to “spend more time in Washington DC to lobby for continued bipartisan U.S. support for Ukraine.”
These plans may have become more urgent after last week House minority leader Kevin McCarthy claimed that the Republicans may attempt to decrease Washington’s support for Ukraine if they win the midterm elections on November 8. McCarthy’s comments “shocked” Ukrainian officials, including David Arakhamia, who heads President Vladimir Zelensky’s party in the country’s parliament.
Some UK officials are said to have discussed whether the ex-PM could act as Britain’s international envoy, potentially working to help Ukraine in its reconstruction efforts. However, such ideas apparently have not yet reached the stage of formal deliberations.
Since Russia launched its military campaign in late February, the US, as of mid-October, has invested approximately $17.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, according to the US Department of State.