President Joe Biden promised Wednesday that the US would stick with Ukraine “as long as it takes,” as that country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, visited the White House in hopes of negotiating an end to the war that Russia started ― and doing so on Ukraine’s terms.
“We understand in our bones that Ukraine’s fight is part of something bigger,” Biden said in a joint news conference with Zelenskyy, amid Christmas decorations in the East Room.
“The American people know that if we stand by in the face of such blatant attacks on liberty and democracy and the core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the world would surely face worse consequences.”
When asked when the war might end, Biden said that it could end right now.
“It could end today if Putin had any dignity at all and did the right thing and just said, ‘Pull out,’” Biden said. But he noted that Vladimir Putin, the Russian dictator, does not seem to have that intention. “Russia is using winter as a weapon. Freezing people. Starving people.”
Because of that, Biden said he wants to give Zelenskyy whatever he needs so Ukraine can emerge from the war “free, independent, prosperous and secure.”
Biden announced a new military aid package of $1.85 billion (£1.52 billion) ― an additional $45 billion (£37 billion) is included in the omnibus spending bill about to clear Congress ― which, for the first time, includes a Patriot missile battery. Biden called that system “defensive” as it is used to shoot down missiles and planes, not launch counterstrikes.
“We’d love for them not to have to use it,” Biden said, again suggesting that Putin could easily prevent the Patriot’s use if he chose. “Just stop the attacks.”
Zelenskyy, at a lectern next to Biden in his now-signature olive pullover and work boots, said he is grateful for Biden’s efforts and the “bipartisan, bicameral” support that Ukraine has received in Congress.
“We need to survive this winter. We need to protect our people,” he said.
Zelenskyy arrived at the White House earlier in the afternoon, stepping out of a black SUV after passing an honour guard lining the South Lawn driveway. He was greeted by President Biden and his wife, first lady Jill Biden, before entering the building with them through the South Portico.
The Ukrainian president had arrived at Joint Base Andrews about an hour before, following a flight aboard a US military Boeing 737. Wednesday marked his second visit to the White House since Biden took office in 2021.
Biden escorted Zelenskyy into the Oval Office, where the two were joined by top administration officials, including Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley.
“I’m delighted you could make the trip,” Biden said, adding that Putin was escalating his attacks on civilians. “We will support Ukraine pursuing a just peace,” he said.
Once a comedian, Zelenskyy has become an admired figure throughout much of the world. He has led a country that was widely expected to succumb quickly to Putin’s onslaught, but which has — with the help of Western Europe and the United States — fought back and is now regaining previously seized territory.
Zelenskyy moved on to the Capitol Wednesday evening to ask Congress for more military and humanitarian aid as Putin responds to Ukraine’s successes with repeated missile attacks against civilians and Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure with the approach of winter.
In July 2019, during a phone call with then-US President Donald Trump soon after taking office, Zelenskyy’s request for a White House visit and the ability to purchase antitank missiles was met with a demand by Trump for Zelenskyy to announce an investigation into Biden, who Trump feared would be the strongest candidate against him in 2020.
Such a request for what Trump called “a favour” in exchange for official government assistance ― had it been made by a military procurement officer or a State Department official ― likely would have ended with prosecution for the crime of extortion and a lengthy prison sentence.
But Trump, many in his administration and his allies in Congress argued that the then-president’s actions were a legitimate policy choice. He was impeached in late 2019 following a House investigation, but every Republican senator, with the exception of Utah’s Mitt Romney, voted not to remove Trump from office.
Trump was impeached a second time following his January 2021 coup attempt to retain power despite losing the 2020 election to Biden, but Republican senators, with seven defections this time, chose not to convict him.
He is now facing multiple criminal investigations involving the insurrection, as well as an unrelated Department of Justice probe for removing top secret documents from the White House and storing them at his Mar-a-Lago social club in Palm Beach, Florida.