President Biden announced a new $800 million military aid package for Ukraine that he said was tailored to the fight against Russian forces in the Donbas region.
He said that the US would send heavy artillery and tactical drones “directly to the front lines of freedom” and also pledged another $500 million in cash for the Ukrainian government so that it could pay salaries and pensions and provide services. A new “expedient channel” for Ukrainian refugees to come to the US from Europe via family or charity sponsors has also been formed.
In a co-ordinated move with allies after a video call on Tuesday, the US followed Europe in banning Russian-affiliated ships from all its ports.
“We’re in a critical window of time where they’re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war,” Biden said in a speech at the White House. “And the United States and our allies and partners are moving as fast as possible to continue to provide Ukraine the weapons, the equipment, their forces need to defend their nation.”
The assistance came eight days after a previous $800 million military aid package and Biden said that he would ask Congress for permission to continue spending more in the coming weeks. The $13.6 billion approved last month by Congress for military and humanitarian assistance was “almost exhausted”.
Biden, 79, said that the unity between the US and allies in support of Ukraine was sending “an unmistakable message” to President Putin. “He will never succeed in dominating and occupying all of Ukraine. That will not happen,” Biden said.
The Pentagon said that the latest round of military assistance, which marks the eighth since August last year, included 72 155mm howitzers (large cannon), with 72 tactical vehicles to tow them and 144,000 shells for them to fire, at least 121 drones and other “field equipment and spare parts”.
The first consignment of 18 howitzers was announced last week, along with measures to train Ukrainian soldiers in their use. It brings to more than $4 billion the total of security assistance to Ukraine under the Biden administration.
“In the past two months, we’ve moved weapons and equipment to Ukraine at record speed,” Biden said. “We’ve sent thousands of anti-armour and anti-missile helicopters, drones, grenade launchers, machine guns, rifles, radar systems, more than 50 million rounds of ammunition. The United States alone has provided ten anti-armour systems for every one Russian tank that’s in Ukraine.”
Biden pledged that US military aid for Kyiv would continue and called on allies to follow suit. “We have the capacity to do this for a long time,” he said. “The question is, are we going to maintain the support of the international community to keep the pressure on Putin? The most important thing is to maintain unity.
“Putin is banking on us losing interest. He was counting on Nato, the European Union, our allies in Asia, cracking, moving away. He’s betting western unity will crack. Once again, we’re going to prove him wrong. We will not lessen our resolve, we’re going to continue to stand with the brave people of Ukraine.”
Biden praised the Ukrainians for their resistance to Russia. “The battle of Kyiv was a historic victory for the Ukrainians,” he said. “It was a victory for freedom, won by the Ukrainian people with unprecedented assistance by the United States and our allies and our partners. Now we have to accelerate that assistance package to help prepare Ukraine for Russia’s next offensive. That’s going to be more limited in terms of geography, but not in terms of brutality.”
Biden spoke hours after Putin claimed victory in the strategic city of Mariupol. “First of all, it’s questionable whether he does control Mariupol,” Biden said. “One thing for sure we know about Mariupol — he should allow humanitarian corridors to let people in that steel mill and other places who are buried under rubble to get out. That’s what any head of state would do in such a circumstance. There is no evidence yet that Mariupol has completely fallen.”