WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has released $250 million in military aid to Ukraine that had been held up despite criticism that the money was desperately needed to deter Russian aggression and territorial expansion.
That move came before a Senate Appropriations panel debate Thursday, when lawmakers from both parties were set to rebuke the administration. They credited an amendment threatened by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., for forcing the administration's hand on the money, which Congress already had approved.
Several Republican senators, including Trump ally Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said they would have voted with Democrats. Added Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.: "We support Ukraine. Period. End of discussion."
Relations between Ukraine and Russia nosedived in 2014 after Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and threw its weight behind separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.
In Ukraine, this aid is seen as important to bolstering the military and keeping Russia at bay.
Ukraine's defense budget in 2017 was about $5.2 billion, so $250 million represents a very sizable boost of about 5 percent.
Trump's moves prompted speculation that Trump was holding back on this aid as a concession to Russia.
Committee members announced the administration's move during debate on a $695 billion Pentagon funding bill.