Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a virtual address to Congress at the U.S. Capitol on March 16, 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a virtual address to Congress at the U.S. Capitol on March 16, 2022. Getty Images / Drew Angerer

Biden Sends $800M In Weapons To Ukraine After Zelenskyy’s Emotional Appeal

The latest military aid includes anti-aircraft and anti-armor systems, plus guns and drones to help Ukrainians fight Russia.

The U.S. is sending an additional $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine, President Joe Biden announced Wednesday, hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made an impassioned plea to Congress for more help. 

The additional assistance, which brings the total the U.S. sent to Ukraine this week to $1 billion, is expected to help local forces better counter Russian missile attacks on major Ukrainian cities. But it does not fulfill all of Zelenskyy’s requests, which included American help to enact a no-fly zone over Ukraine as Russian leader Vladimir Putin continues to target civilians. 

“This could be a long and difficult battle,” Biden said at the White House, flanked by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “We are united in our abhorrence of Putin’s depraved onslaught, and we're going to continue to have their backs as they fight for their freedom, their democracy, their very survival.”

The new U.S. aid includes 800 anti-aircraft systems, including longer-range platforms; 9,000 shoulder-mounted anti-armor missiles to destroy tanks and vehicles; 7,000 machine guns, shotguns, and grenade launchers; and 20 million rounds of ammunition. The latest shipment will also include drones, demonstrating that America is willing to send its “most cutting-edge equipment” to Ukraine, Biden said. 

Biden promised to send even more arms and impose more sanctions to cripple the Russian economy and isolate Moscow from the world. 

“That’s our goal: make Putin pay the price, weaken his position while strengthening the hand of Ukrainians on the battlefield and at the negotiating table,” he said. 

Negotiators from Ukraine and Russia made progress Monday on a plan that would require Ukraine to give up its ambitions to join NATO and not host foreign troops or weapons, in exchange for Russian withdrawal, Financial Times reported Wednesday. Ukrainian officials, however, were concerned that Putin was not serious about the talks and might just be buying time for Russian forces to regroup. 

Despite a glimmer of hope about an agreement, the violence showed no sign of slowing down. Just after Biden finished speaking, the Kyiv Independent reported that Russia had bombed a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of Ukrainians were taking shelter.

Members of Congress have overwhelmingly voted to send more military aid to Ukraine quickly. Many were moved by Zelenskyy’s speech. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said afterward that America should have sent planes to Ukraine “long ago.”

“They need more of everything. And they're fighting not just for their kids and their future. They're fighting for the free world. Zelenskyy has the courage of his convictions,” Sasse said. “The question he has for Congress, the United States government, is will we have the courage of ours. We're a superpower. We should act like it.” 

In Zelenskyy’s virtual address to lawmakers, he made an emotional appeal for empathy, urging Americans to remember the times they were under attack, including Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11.

“Our country experiences the same every day. Right now at this moment, every night for three weeks now…Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” he said through a translator.  

Zelenskyy reiterated his request for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which has been rejected by American and NATO leaders because it could lead to direct conflict between nuclear-armed countries in the West and Russia. But he acknowledged that it may be “too much to ask,” and also requested aircraft “to protect our sky,” and surface-to-air systems like the S-300 to counter Russian attacks. 

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said the Ukrainian resistance has been “an inspiration.”

“The United States and its allies and partners should continue to help the Ukrainians—offering humanitarian assistance, military aid, and more—while ensuring that Russia’s war in Ukraine does not widen,” he said in a statement. 

On the economic front, Zelenskyy asked the United States to impose new sanctions “every week” against Russia until the war ends, including targeting every Russian politician still in office. He asked lawmakers to intervene directly with companies based in their districts that might still be doing business in Russia.

“Leave their market immediately because it is flooded with our blood,” he said. “I am asking to make sure that the Russians do not receive a single penny that they use to destroy people in Ukraine….Peace is more important than income.” 

Lawmakers also backed the call for more severe economic consequences for Putin.

“President Zelenskyy’s request for increased sanctions on Russia should be met immediately,” Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said in a statement. “They will make the war harder and harder for Putin to fund, and they are already increasing the economic and political costs of waging it.”

Zelenskyy did not mention Ukraine’s bid to join NATO or the European Union, but did say that existing institutions designed to prevent war “don’t work.” Instead, he pitched the establishment of a new alliance of “responsible countries” that would be prepared to send humanitarian support and military aid within 24 hours of the start of a war, natural disaster, or epidemic. 

The Ukrainian president spoke through a translator before showing a graphic video that depicted life in Ukraine before the war, contrasted with scenes of carnage and violence, including people throwing bodies into ditches and children being carried on stretchers. The video ended with a frame that said, “Close the skies over Ukraine.” 

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told CNN that the video was “very emotional” and left “a lot of members in tears.” 

After the video, Zelenskyy switched to English to address Biden directly.

“President Biden, you are the leader of the nation….I wish you to be the leader of the world,” he said. “Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”