President Biden hinted at a rift in the alliance of Western nations arming Ukraine on Wednesday, making the alarming claim that giving Kyiv access to NATO’s most advanced gear could tear the alliance in two.
“The idea that we would give Ukraine material that is fundamentally different than is already going there would have a prospect of breaking up NATO and breaking up the European Union,” Biden said Wednesday after a Ukrainian reporter asked him why the US wasn’t giving its most advanced weaponry to the war-torn nation.
“They’re not looking to go to war with Russia — they’re not looking for a third World War,” he said.
“There’s more to say but I’ve probably already said too much,” he added before wrapping up a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky following a face-to-face sit-down at the White House.
Biden, who used the presser as an opportunity to announce an additional $1.85 billion in security assistance to Kyiv — which includes one battery of the advanced Patriot surface-to-air missile system — contended that Ukraine would still get the equipment it needed to fight Russia.
“Were going to give Ukraine what it needs to be able to defend itself, to be able … to succeed on the battlefield,” he said.
“We understand in our bones that Ukraine’s fight is part of something much bigger.”
Zelensky, clad in his usual olive green sweater with the Ukrainian coat of arms, thanked Biden for his “personal efforts to unite the partners” of NATO and the EU.
Despite their apparent skittishness at giving Ukraine arms that could reach Russia, Biden said he’d “never seen NATO or the EU more united about anything at all.”
“We all know whats at stake, the very idea of sovereignty,” Biden said.
Zelensky also thanked the American people for their support of his country in the nearly 10-month war.
“I wish you peace,” Zelensky said. “I think that is the main thing — and you understand it only when there’s war in your country, when someone, like these terrorists from Russia, come to your houses. I wish you will see your children alive.”
He also expressed the hope that the billions of dollars in support would continue, despite imminent Republican control of the House.
“Regardless of changes in the congress, I believe there will be bipartisan, bicameral support [for Ukraine],” Zelensky said. “We need to survive this winter, we need to protect our people.”
Asked about the prospects of a peace agreement in the coming months, Zelensky demurred.
“Just peace? I don’t know what [a] just peace is,” he said. “It’s a very philosophical description.”
“For me, as a president, just peace is no compromises as to the sovereignty, freedom and territorial integrity of my country,” he said.
“The longer this aggression lasts, there will be more parents who live for the sake of revenge,” Zelensky continued.
“There cant be any just peace in the war that was imposed on us by these –” he stopped.
“I don’t know how to describe them,” he said of the Russians, “because we are in the White House and I can’t find the proper language.”
The Ukrainian president finally settled on “inhumans.”
“We both want this war to end,” Biden jumped in. “It could end today if Putin had any dignity at all and just did the right thing.”
The meeting of the two leaders took place on the 300th day of fighting — nearly ten months of war since Russia invaded its neighbor on February 24.
Since then, Ukraine has pushed Russian forces back slowly as Moscow has reverted to its most tried-and-true tactic — bombarding Ukrainian cities from afar.
Since Kyiv’s forces began their largely successful counter-attack in the fall, Russia has begun targeting power plants across Ukraine with cruise missiles and Iranian-made suicide drones in an effort to knock out heat, power and water as the winter sets in.
“Russia is using winter as a weapon — freezing people, starving people, cutting them off from one another,” Biden said. “Its the latest example of the outrageous atrocity the Russians are committing.”
Russia’s reliance on aerial assaults has recently renewed Ukrainian demands for more advanced air defense systems, including the US-made Patriot system included in Wednesday’s aid package.
The provision of the Patriot missile system — the primary surface-to-air system in the US arsenal — has been cast by Moscow as an escalation on the part of the West.
Biden was quick to respond.
“It’s a defensive weapon system. It’s not escalatory, it’s defensive,” he said. “We’d love to not have them use it — just stop the attacks.”
Asked about next steps, Zelensky stayed on-message.
‘We will send another signal to President Biden that we would like to get more Patriots,” the onetime comedian said, drawing laughter from the press.