Ukraine debt relief included in US defense bill approved by House

The US is the largest provider of foreign aid to Ukraine

Congress on Thursday took a step toward allowing Ukraine to delay payments on the hundreds of billions of dollars it has borrowed from the U.S., European nations, and others around the world.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2023 passed the House Thursday afternoon in a 350-80 vote. Included in that 4,400-page bill is a section on "Ukraine Debt Payment Relief."

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A bill approved by the House on Thursday requires the U.S. to start seeking debt payment relief agreements for Ukraine, as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy continues to defend his country from Russia. (Photo by Damir SENCAR / POOL / AFP) (Photo by DAMIR SENCAR/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

A bill approved by the House on Thursday requires the U.S. to start seeking debt payment relief agreements for Ukraine, as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy continues to defend his country from Russia. (Photo by Damir SENCAR / POOL / AFP) (Photo by DAMIR SENCAR/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) (Photo by DAMIR SENCAR/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

That section says the U.S. treasury secretary will instruct U.S. representatives of international financial institutions to "use the voice, vote, and influence of the United States to advocate that the respective institution immediately provide appropriate debt service relief to Ukraine."

It instructs Treasury to commence "immediate efforts" with other governments and commercial creditors to "pursue comprehensive debt payment relief for Ukraine."

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Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairs the House Armed Services Committee, which negotiated a defense policy bill including language on Ukraine.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairs the House Armed Services Committee, which negotiated a defense policy bill including language on Ukraine.

The language talks only about debt payment relief, and not forgiveness of the assistance given to Ukraine this year to defend itself from to Russia’s invasion.

The U.S. is by far the largest contributor of aid to Ukraine, in the form of weapons, equipment, logistics support, training and other aid to the war-torn country. The U.S. has also provided billions of dollars in economic support to Ukraine, enough to account for a majority of Ukraine’s annual budget.

A bill passed earlier this year gave Ukraine $4.5 billion to allow Ukraine to "maintain macroeconomic stability and provide basic citizen services."

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen would be tasked with seeking Ukraine debt relief payments from lenders under the House bill. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen would be tasked with seeking Ukraine debt relief payments from lenders under the House bill.  (CBS/Screenshot)

Last month, the Biden administration asked Congress for another $37.7 billion in support for Ukraine. If that passes, Congress will have approved more than $100 billion in Ukraine-related spending, although not all of that money went to Ukraine – for example, billions of it is being used to replenish U.S. weapons stocks.

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Still, any international plan to relieve Ukraine of debt payments or to eventually forgive the debt will affect the U.S. more than any other nation.

The legislation approved by the House includes several other Ukraine-related provisions including extending U.S. security aid to Ukraine through 2023, a joint military trauma care and research agreement between the U.S. and Ukraine, and ongoing short- and medium-term aid to the country.