Biden lost his temper on Zelenskyy in June when the Ukrainian leader asked for more help

Biden lost his temper on Zelenskyy in June when the Ukrainian leader asked for more help

It has become routine since Russia invaded Ukraine: President Joe Biden and the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy phone whenever the US announces a new military aid package for Kyiv.

However, a call between the two leaders in June went differently than previous ones, according to four people familiar with the call. Biden had barely told Zelenskyy that he had just released another $1 billion in US military aid to Ukraine when Zelenskyy started listing all the extra aid he needed and wasn’t getting. Biden lost his temper, people familiar with the call said. The American people are quite generous and their government and US military are working hard to help Ukraine, he said, raising his voice, and Zelenskyy could show a little more gratitude.

Government officials said the relationship between Biden and Zelenskyy has only improved since the June call, after which Zelenskyy issued a statement praising the US for its generous support. But the clash reflects Biden’s early awareness of it Both congressional and public support for sending billions of dollars to Ukraine could wane. That moment has come just as the President is preparing to ask Congress for the green light for even money for Ukraine.

Biden now faces opposition from some Republicans and Democrats who were not present when Congress approved earlier funds for Ukraine. The White House has discussed asking Congress for billions of dollars during the post-midterm election session.

The White House has not publicly disclosed any amount. Lawmakers and Ukrainian lobbyists are hoping for $40 billion to $60 billion, and some officials familiar with the discussions put the figure at around $50 billion.

A source familiar with the call said Biden was direct with Zelenskyy on handling the issues in relevant military channels, but the exchange was not heated or angry.

A spokesman for the National Security Council declined to comment on the story.

A spokesman for Zelenskyi did not respond to a request for comment.

Senior US officials warn there are no signs the war is ending anytime soon.

Before the June 15 call, the president’s frustration with Zelenskyy had been building for weeks, said three people familiar with the call. Biden and some of his top advisers sensed that The administration did as much as they could, as quickly as they could but that Zelenskyy continued to publicly focus only on what was not being done.

From Zelenskyy’s perspective — as well as that of some Eastern European governments and U.S. lawmakers from both parties — there has been repeated frustration that the Biden White House has been slow to move on weapons requests and was initially reluctant to approve certain capabilities Ukraine’s most urgently requested, only under pressure to approve it weeks or months later, according to two sources familiar with the Ukrainian government’s view, congressional assistants and two European officials.

After the backlash Zelenskyy received on their phone call in June, his team decided to try to defuse tensions and concluded that having friction with the US president was not productive, according to two sources, familiar with the Ukrainian government’s position, congressional assistants and two European officials.

Zelenskyj reacted publicly that day by thanking Biden for the promised help.

“I had an important meeting with US President Biden today,” he said in a videotaped remark. “I am grateful for this support. It is particularly important for our defense in Donbass.”

In his statement after the call, Biden said he briefed Zelenskyy on the $1 billion in aid and vowed that the US “will not waver in our commitment to the Ukrainian people as they fight for their freedom.”

Efforts to procure Ukrainian arms and equipment have intensified in recent weeks as Ukraine seeks to rake in significant profits before harsh winter temperatures hit.

The Ukrainian military is focused on driving thousands of Russian troops out of Kherson and attempting to encircle them and retake the southern city from Russian control. The Battle of Kherson could become one of the most momentous battles in Ukraine since the invasion. If Ukraine is able to retake the territory, it could be a major morale boost for Zelenskyy’s forces and a serious blow to the confidence of Russian troops. But if Russia holds out, it could hold the south, including the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, through the winter months. “This could be a game changer,” said a defense official.

Concerns about declining support for Ukraine are also driving current offensives, according to a defense official and former official, as Ukraine seeks to show momentum on the battlefield to encourage the flow of more weapons.

On Oct. 12, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called a Ukraine contact group meeting in Brussels, a regular gathering of allies, to discuss how to get more weapons and equipment into the hands of the Ukrainian military. While previous meetings have provided munitions support for rocket launchers, this month’s meeting took on a new urgency, according to three defense officials familiar with the discussions.

“Everyone has stepped up,” an official said at the meeting. Countries searched their stockpiles and warehouses to find anything that could help Ukraine’s military, the official said. “There was an urgent need to get them air defenses and everything we could before winter so they could be successful in this current offensive.”

The meeting was so successful that Austin felt dizzy as he walked out, two defense officials said.

Ukraine still needs more air defense systems to defend against Russian military aircraft, missiles and drones, and the US continues to discuss deploying long-range missile systems like the ATACMS and even some advanced fighter jets in the future.

The proportion of Americans who are extremely or very concerned about Ukraine’s loss of war has fallen 17 percentage points from 55% to 38% since May. according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted last month. And the proportion of Americans who say they are not overly concerned or not at all concerned about Russia’s victory rose to 26% from 16%, according to the poll.

The potential shift in US political will to continue sending aid to Ukraine could turn the way both the White House and Zelenskyy have approached the issue on its head.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the Biden administration has been criticized for being too cautious. Now the president faces possible opposition from some Republican lawmakers and progressive Democrats that he is providing too much aid.

The shifting dynamic on Capitol Hill could also force Zelenskyy’s team to reconsider its dealings with Washington, as it has often sought to use its support in Congress to get more out of the White House.

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