President Biden said Thursday that the U.S. will deliver another $800 million in military aid to Ukraine to send an “unmistakable message” to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the Kremlin tries to reboot the troubled invasion of its neighbor.
Checked in the early days of the mission in a direct attack on Ukraine’s major cities, Mr. Putin insisted Thursday that the retooled operation was making progress, even as he tacitly acknowledged that Russian forces failed to dislodge a significant deployment of Ukrainian forces holding out in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol.
In what has developed into one of the bloodiest encounters of the 2-month-old war, Mr. Putin said in a carefully staged Kremlin meeting that he was calling off a planned assault on Ukrainian troops and civilians holed up in the giant Azovstal steel mill complex in Mariupol. He said the Russian forces could be better employed in the planned offensive elsewhere in Ukraine’s divided Donbas region.
In what State Department spokesman Ned Price said was an attempt to spin another military reverse, Mr. Putin said Mariupol had essentially been “liberated” and a tough, direct assault on the mill was unnecessary.
“We need to think about preserving the life and health of our soldiers and officers,” Mr. Putin told Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in a televised briefing, while ordering a blockade of the Azovstal complex. “There’s no reason to penetrate through these subterranean pathways and beneath these industrial facilities.”
But the White House and Western military leaders said Russia’s recent moves show that Mr. Putin is all but acknowledging that his initial war goals, including the quick overthrow of the government in Kyiv, cannot be achieved.
SEE ALSO: Putin orders blockade of Mariupol steel plant instead of invasion
“He will never succeed in dominating and occupying Ukraine. That will not happen,” Mr. Biden said from the White House.
Quiet aid flows
Paraphrasing Theodore Roosevelt, Mr. Biden said the U.S. and its allies will “speak softly and carry a large Javelin” in providing weapons to Ukraine. He was referring to the surface-to-air missile that has proved potent against Russian armored forces.
It is the eighth drawdown of arms, equipment and supplies from Department of Defense inventories for Ukraine since August and comes on top of another $800 million announced last week.
Mr. Biden also announced $500 million in direct economic assistance to the Ukrainian government, bringing total financial support to $1 billion over the past two months as Ukraine tries to fend off shocks to its economy and rebuild.
International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told a Washington news conference this week that Ukraine’s financial ministry officials have estimated they will need $5 billion in international assistance per month just to cover essential government services and keep the country’s economy functioning as the war grinds on.
SEE ALSO: Russian invasion of Ukraine making NATO membership popular in Sweden
“We know this is only the beginning of what Ukraine will need to rebuild,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said of the new economic aid package.
Mr. Biden said he is running out of money to send to Ukraine so he will ask Congress for a supplemental package after the Defense Department settles on a figure.
“In order to sustain Ukraine for the duration of this fight, next week I’m going to be sending to Congress a supplemental budget request to keep weapons and ammunition flowing without interruption to the brave Ukrainian fighters and continue delivering economic assistance to the Ukrainian people,” he said.
The president also said he is banning any Russian-affiliated ship from U.S. ports, replicating a measure that Europe imposed on Russia for the invasion, which began on Feb. 24.
“No ship that sails under the Russian flag or that is owned or operated by a Russian interest will be allowed to dock in a United States port or access our shores. None,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Biden met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal ahead of his remarks and hailed the Ukrainian people’s resilience and defense of their capital, Kyiv.
“You must be amazed at the courage of this country, the resolve that they’re showing — not just the military, but the average citizen,” Mr. Biden said.
The U.S. has pledged to send an additional 72 115-mm howitzers to Ukraine and sufficient tactical vehicles to tow them to the battlefield. With the 18 cannons already promised for their war against Russian invaders, Ukraine now will have enough firepower to equip five full artillery battalions, the Pentagon said.
With its generally level terrain, the Donbas region — where Russian troops appear to be consolidating their forces — will be ideally suited to artillery barrages, experts say.
“Given the topography of the Donbas and the order of battle we are seeing unfold there, the side that can close the kill chain the fastest and with the most accuracy and volume of fires will likely prevail,” said Bradley Bowman, a former Army officer now with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “It is good to see the Biden administration finally sending these weapons in volume, but this effort will likely need to continue for quite some time.”
Also included in the latest security assistance package are more than 121 Phoenix Ghost tactical unmanned aerial systems. The ghost drones, believed to be relatively low-cost, single-use “suicide drones” able to deliver payloads to targets remotely, were rapidly designed by the Air Force in response to the requirements in Ukraine, a senior Defense Department official told reporters at the Pentagon.
“This is a great example of adapting to their needs in real time,” the defense official said.
Russian forces were making some progress against lesser targets in the Donbas, the site of a civil war between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists for more than eight years. An aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said more than three dozen smaller villages in the Donetsk region have been “occupied” by advancing Russian troops.
Mr. Zelenskyy said some 120,000 Ukrainian civilians were still trapped inside Mariupol and trying to get out. Previous efforts to establish a “corridor” for those trying to flee have broken down repeatedly.
Separately, a poll released Thursday found that most Swedes for the first time favor abandoning their country’s policy of neutrality and joining the NATO alliance as a full member. The change, which upends decades of military nonalignment for Stockholm, is a direct response to the Russian invasion, analysts said.
A survey by the polling institute Novus found that 51% of Swedes favor joining NATO, up from 45% a week ago and the first time the pollster has recorded a majority on the issue, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.
Officials with Novus said they believe public opinion in Sweden is also influenced by debate in neighboring Finland on joining NATO. Analysts predict Finland, which has also long pursued a policy of neutrality, will submit a bid for membership in time for a NATO summit in June.
The poll result is part of a major blowback for Mr. Putin, who greenlighted the Ukraine invasion with the proclaimed purpose of halting NATO’s expansion in Ukraine and other countries close to Russia’s borders. Analysts say the Russian military operation has only increased the attraction of NATO for countries that have long preferred not to join.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.