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Haley backs bill to seize Russian assets as Trump threatens NATO

Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event at on Tuesday in Summerville, S.C.  (Win McNamee/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Christian Hall Bloomberg News

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley is throwing her support behind legislation that would let the U.S. seize sovereign Russian assets to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction, as she steps up her foreign-policy attacks on GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “is a war criminal and thug who invaded a free country,” Haley said in a statement to Bloomberg News, adding that it should not be a question whether he should “pay the price for his actions.”

Haley’s stance puts her on the same page as President Joe Biden, whose White House signaled it supports the legislation. Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 20-1 to advance the bill, which would let the executive branch seize some of the $300 billion in Russian sovereign assets frozen after Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine two years ago.

The bill even has support from some pro-Trump Republicans who are otherwise skeptical of aid for Kyiv, because it would use Russian money and not U.S. taxpayer dollars to pay for rebuilding Ukraine.

Haley is backing the bill at a critical time in the debate over assistance for Ukraine, with many European capitals already worried about the U.S. commitment to global security – fears that were intensified by Trump’s recent comments that he would allow NATO allies to fend for themselves against Russia if they did not meet defense-spending promises.

“Just in the past few days, Trump sided with Putin over NATO, and his willingness to abandon Ukraine and our allies puts every American in danger. Our focus must always be about preventing war and keeping our troops out of harm’s way,” Haley said. “We need a president who has the moral clarity to do that.”

The bill is separate from Biden’s request for $61 billion in security assistance for the country, which faces stiff resistance from hardline Republicans in the House of Representatives who want to address the migrant crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border before approving Ukraine aid. A Senate deal that included broad immigration reforms and unlocked Ukraine funding was scuttled after pressure from Trump who urged Republicans to hold out for a “perfect” deal on the border.

Senators on Tuesday approved a $95 billion package that strips the immigration measures and includes $60 billion for Ukraine as well as funds for Israel, Taiwan and humanitarian aid for Gaza. The measure though lacks a clear path in the House, where Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to act on Ukraine until a Republican-only bill on the border is enacted.

Haley has stepped up her attacks on Trump’s populist foreign policy views as she looks to close the gap with the Republican frontrunner. Haley, a former U.N. envoy under Trump, has been a staunch advocate for continuing aid for Ukraine, espousing more traditional Republican policies than her onetime boss on the campaign trail.

Trump is on the cusp of the nomination and is looking to deliver a knockout blow to Haley, his last remaining GOP challenger, in her home state of South Carolina, which holds its primary on Feb. 24. He leads her there by over 30 percentage points, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.

“We need a president who has moral clarity about the need to support our allies and stand up to the world’s worst dictators,” Haley said in her statement.