: RFE/RL: U.S. bill backs more defense spending for Europe, Ukraine

10:52 Apr. 29, 2016

RFE/RL: U.S. bill backs more defense spending for Europe, Ukraine

U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jet lands at the Siauliai airbase, some 230 km (144 miles) east of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Wednesday, April 27, 2016 (AP Photo)

Moscow concerned about new military dimension in U.S.-Baltic relations

A key U.S. congressional committee has backed a substantial increase in defense spending to reassure European allies jittery about Russian military maneuvers.

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Lawmakers on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee also voted April 28 to allocate USD 150 million to help train and equip Ukrainian government forces in their fight against Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country.

But the bill appears to stop short of heeding Kyiv's repeated requests for weaponry other than the defense equipment Washington has been providing to date.

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At USD 610 billion, the legislation is one of the largest single annual budget measures considered by Congress, covering a sweeping range of U.S. defense policy. This year's package authorizes more money for more advanced fighter jets, new navy ships, and cyberwarfare, as well as more mundane matters like service members' salaries and health-care expenses.

But the bill also reflects foreign policy priorities, and the alarm that many lawmakers and policy officials have voiced regarding Russia's stepped-up military actions in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere figures notably in the legislation.

Lawmakers backed an administration proposal called the European Reassurance Initiative, а USD 3.4 billion effort to increase the U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe. The Pentagon is planning to increase the number of combat brigades rotating into Europe, as well as station heavy weaponry and equipment in some places.

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"I think the lack of debate about the European Reassurance Initiative is a reflection that there is a pretty broad consensus on what the administration has proposed," said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "If anything, there may be people who want to add more money, not less."

Committee members also took aim at a key treaty that authorizes countries to conduct surveillance flights over one another's territory to monitor military forces. The Treaty on Open Skies has been used by both the United States and Russia to gather information, but U.S. officials in February publicly complained about a Russian request for a flight using advanced digital cameras.

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"I cannot see why the United States would allow Russia to fly a surveillance plane with an advanced sensor over the United States to collect intelligence," Mac Thornberry (Republican-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in February.

The bill passed by the committee on April 28 aims to cut off funding for cooperation with Russia on U.S. overflights until intelligence officials say there is no threat from the flights.

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