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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Biden explains why Zelensky can’t get everything he wants

The West wants to avoid a direct war with Russia, the US president has said

Giving Kiev all the weapons it wants might break NATO, US President Joe Biden said in a joint appearance with his Ukrainian counterpart, Vladimir Zelensky, in Washington on Wednesday. Biden added he was not worried that the delivery of Patriot missiles to Ukraine might escalate tensions with Russia – as Moscow has warned – because they are “defensive” weapons.

Biden and Zelensky answered questions from four hand-picked reporters after their meeting at the White House. The last one came from a Ukrainian journalist, who asked why the West doesn’t simply give Ukraine “all capabilities it needs to liberate all territories.”

Read more: Zelensky says US aid not ‘charity’ on triumphant US visit

“His answer is yes,” the US president deadpanned, pointing to Zelensky, who replied “I agree,” to laughter from the gathered press.

Biden then pointed out that the US “dedicated an enormous amount of security assistance to Ukraine” even before hostilities escalated in February – though in his prepared remarks, he called the Russian military operation “unprovoked and unjustified.”

“We’ve given Ukraine what they needed when they needed to defend themselves,” including hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, and ammunition, he said.

Doing more would have “the prospect of breaking up NATO, breaking up Europe, and the rest of the world,” Biden said, noting that he has spent “hundreds” of hours persuading partners around the globe to help Ukraine, but “they are not looking for a Third World War” by fighting Russia directly. “But I’ve said too much.”

Zelensky arrived in Washington in what US media described as a secretly arranged visit, though word of it was leaked to select outlets on Tuesday. He is expected to address Congress in the evening, urging the passage of a $1.7 trillion spending bill that includes $45 billion earmarked for Ukraine in 2023. In a video released on Tuesday, he said Ukraine was grateful for all the aid from the West but it was “not enough.”

Read more: Ukraine’s Zelensky plans US visit in first trip abroad since war began

A battery of Patriot air defense missiles is among the $1.85 billion in military aid for Ukraine the Pentagon announced earlier in the day, though Biden pointed out that training Ukrainian troops to operate them, which is to take place at a US base in Germany, is “going to take some time.” Zelensky said that once the Patriots arrive, he will ask Biden for more of them.

The Pentagon has disclosed that the US has sent $20 billion worth of military aid to Ukraine just this year. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu noted earlier on Wednesday that Kiev has already received more than $97 billion worth of weapons and ammunition, and that Russia was already fighting the entire West.