Biden details $800m in Ukraine aid after Zelenskyy Congress speech

US has dismissed requests for no-fly zone over fears the move would escalate the Ukraine war

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President Joe Biden announced another $800 million in US military aid for Ukraine on Wednesday, but did not change his position on a no-fly zone over the European country despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy making an urgent request directly to the US Congress.

The package includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 2,000 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 100 drones.

"The American people will be steadfast in our support and the people of Ukraine in the face of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's immoral, unethical attacks on civilian populations," Mr Biden said at the White House.

"We're going to continue to have their backs as they fight for their freedom, their democracy, their very survival."

Mr Zelenskyy earlier gave a 20-minute video address to the US Congress, where he pleaded once more for a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” Mr Zelenskyy said.

“Russian troops have already fired nearly 1,000 missiles at Ukraine — countless bombs. They use drones to kill us with precision. This is a terror that Europe has not seen for 80 years."

While Mr Biden agreed to provide Mr Zelenskyy with the aerial defence systems he requested, his administration has repeatedly stated its opposition to Ukraine's continued request for a no-fly zone as the US fears such a move would spark a broader conflict between Russia and Nato.

Mr Biden noted that the US has authorised Ukraine $1 billion in security aid this week alone, adding America will continue to give Ukraine weapons, offer humanitarian relief and support Ukraine's economy with additional financial assistance.

He called Mr Zelenskyy's address a “convincing, significant speech for a people who have shown remarkable courage and strength in the face of brutal aggression". At a subsequent event in the White House, Mr Biden called Mr Putin a "war criminal".

Also on Wednesday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with Gen Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, in the highest-level US-Russia talks since the war began.

According to a White House readout of the call, Mr Sullivan said the US would continue to impose costs on Russia and supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty.

“Mr Sullivan told Gen Patrushev that if Russia is serious about diplomacy then Moscow should stop attacking Ukrainian cities and towns,” the readout stated.

“Mr Sullivan also warned General Patrushev about the consequences and implications of any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.”

According to the White House, the new $800 million US assistance package includes:

  • 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems
  • 2,000 Javelin, 1,000 light anti-armour weapons, and 6,000 AT-4 anti-armour systems
  • 100 tactical drones
  • 100 grenade launchers, 5,000 rifles, 1,000 pistols, 400 machine guns, and 400 shotguns
  • Over 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds
  • 25,000 sets of body armour and helmets

Mr Biden also pledged to help Ukraine find and procure longer range anti-aircraft systems, at Mr Zelenskyy's request.

The executive order announcing the additional assistance comes after Mr Biden signed a government funding bill into law last week that includes $13.6 billion in additional military and economic aid for Ukraine.

Cognisant of US reluctance to allow a no-fly zone, Mr Zelenskyy suggested that the transfer of fighter jets to Ukraine and additional aerial defence systems could serve as an alternative.

“You know what kind of defence systems we need — S-300 and other similar systems,” he said, referring to the Soviet-designed surface-to-air missile system.

“You know how much depends on the battlefield, on the ability to use aircraft — powerful, strong aviation to protect our people, our freedom, our land.”

The Ukrainian military is largely accustomed to using Soviet and Russian-designed equipment, rendering transfers of US-made materiel that its armed forces are not trained to use largely unfeasible.

But Ukraine has sought advanced fighter jets from Nato allies such as Poland that use Soviet-designed systems.

Poland last week proposed to indirectly transfer its fleet of 28 MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine by first placing them in US custody at a Nato base in Germany. Warsaw did not consult with Washington before making the surprise announcement and the Biden administration ultimately rejected the proposal.

A Pentagon official told Congress last week that additional fighter jets would not result in “significant effectiveness” for the Ukrainian military and that the US remains largely focused on providing Ukraine with additional air defence and anti-armour capabilities — drawing bipartisan pushback from several members of Congress.

To make his case for increased assistance, Mr Zelenskyy invoked several motifs recognisable to an American audience, including the September 11 attacks and Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

He noted that Ukraine has experienced a September 11 attack “every night for three weeks now”, showing a video illustrating the devastation wrought by Russian air strikes on civilian targets.

“'I have a dream,'” said Mr Zelenskyy. “These words are known to each of you today. I can say, I have a need. I need to protect our sky.”

The Ukrainian president also told Congress that “new packages of sanctions are needed constantly every week until the Russian military machine stops".

“We propose that the United States sanction all politicians in the Russian Federation who remain in their offices and do not cut ties with those who are responsible for the aggression against Ukraine.”

For his part, Mr Biden vowed to keep up pressure on the Russian economy to make Mr Putin “pay the price” for the invasion and “weaken his position".

Mr Zelenskyy also asked members of Congress to exert their influence in their states and districts to pressure American companies to continue to divest from and pull out of the Russian market.

Several large American companies, including McDonalds, Starbucks, Pepsi and Netflix have already closed their businesses in Russia.

“All American companies must leave Russia,” he said. “I’m asking to make sure that the Russians do not receive a single penny that they use to destroy people in Ukraine.”

Updated: March 17, 2022, 5:23 AM