The Biden administration has announced it will provide 1.85 billion dollars in military aid to Ukraine, rolling out funding for a Patriot missile battery as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives in Washington for his first known trip out of his country since Russia invaded.
The package includes 1 billion dollars in weapons and equipment from Pentagon stocks, including a Patriot battery for the first time, and 850 million dollars in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
Part of the USAI will be used to fund a satellite communications system, which likely will include the crucial SpaceX Starlink satellite network system owned by Elon Musk.
“As Russia continues its brutal attacks against critical infrastructure in Ukraine, the United States welcomes President Volodymyr Zelensky to Washington DC today to underscore our enduring commitment to the people of Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
He added that the US will be providing “critical new and additional military capabilities to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia’s ongoing brutal and unprovoked assault”.
Mr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials have pressed Western leaders to provide more advanced weapons, including the Patriots, to help their country in its war against Russia.
The Patriot would be the most advanced surface-to-air missile system the West has provided to Ukraine to help repel Russian aerial attacks.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the visit “will underscore the United States’ steadfast commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes, including through the provision of economic, humanitarian, and military assistance”.
Mr Zelensky will meet Mr Biden at the White House in the afternoon and then join him for a news conference in the East Room. An address to Congress is expected in the evening.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in her invitation to Mr Zelensky to speak to lawmakers, said “the fight for Ukraine is the fight for democracy itself” and that they were looking forward to “hearing your inspiring message of unity, resilience and determination”.
US and Ukrainian officials have made clear they do not envision an imminent resolution to the war and are preparing for fighting to continue for some time. The latest infusion of US money would be the biggest yet.
Mr Biden has repeated that while the US will arm and train Ukraine, American forces will not be directly engaged in the war.
Mr Biden and Mr Zelenskyy first discussed the idea of a visit during a telephone call on December 11, with a formal invitation following three days later, according to a senior US administration official.
Mr Zelensky accepted the invitation on Friday and it was confirmed on Sunday, when the White House began coordinating with Ms Pelosi to arrange the congressional address.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said the delivery of the advanced surface-to-air missile system would be considered a provocative step and that the system and any crews accompanying it would be a legitimate target for Moscow’s military.
It was unclear when the Patriot battery would arrive on the front lines in Ukraine, given that US troops will have to train Ukrainian forces. The training could take several weeks and is expected to be done in Germany.
The visit comes at an important moment, with the White House bracing for greater resistance when Republicans take control of the House in January and give more scrutiny to aid for Ukraine. Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California has said his party will not write a “blank cheque” for Ukraine.