Implored by Zelensky, Biden and G-7 allies will increase Ukraine defense aid, economic support
In a videoconference Monday with the leaders of the world’s most powerful democracies, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pressed for more advanced weaponry and defense systems to blunt Russia’s air attacks — and the U.S. plans to deliver just that.
President Biden will announce a new aid package this week that will include advanced medium- and long-range air defense systems, a top White House official confirmed, noting that Zelensky is eager to shorten a brutal war entering its fifth month.
Zelensky, speaking to leaders of the G-7 a day after Russian missiles struck civilian targets in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, told Biden and the other leaders gathered here in the Bavarian Alps that he desperately needs “additional air defense capabilities that could shoot down missiles out of the sky,” according to Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor.
Ukraine’s desperation grew more apparent just hours later when Russia’s aerial bombardment hit a shopping mall with an estimated 1,000 people inside in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, far from the front lines. Zelensky said the number of casualties was “impossible to imagine.”
The second straight day of Russian attacks on civilian targets coinciding with the G-7’s annual gathering here seemed an unmistakable message from President Vladimir Putin in this war of wills with the West.
The deadly missile attack came just hours after the G-7 leaders, following their meeting with Zelensky, pledged in a statement to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes,” affirming their “unwavering commitment” to defend the country from Russian aggression while leaving it up to Zelensky to decide when and how to try to negotiate a peace settlement.
“What we’re trying to do with this point is tailor our military assistance to the particular, immediate needs of Ukrainians on the battlefield,” Sullivan told reporters after the G-7’s morning working session that focused on the war in Ukraine. Those discussions centered on the best strategies to assist Kyiv at a moment when fighting has bogged down in the country’s contested eastern region.
Zelensky, Sullivan said, “believes that a grinding conflict is not in the interest of the Ukrainian people” and “would like to see his military and those in the West who are supporting his military making maximum use of the next few months to put Ukraine in as good a position as they can possibly be in.”
Given the global economic impact of the war, which has caused inflation to spike, destabilized energy markets and exacerbated a worldwide food shortage, Biden and other G-7 leaders are also motivated to apply additional pressure that could help end the conflict.
While increasing defense aid for Ukraine, Biden and other G-7 leaders appeared close to an agreement in principle to impose price caps on Russian oil, limiting how much Moscow can make selling its crude around the world.
“The goal here is to starve Russia, starve Putin of his main source of cash and force down the price of oil to help blunt the impact of Putin’s war at the pump,” said a senior administration official, who spoke about the proposal on the condition of anonymity.
Biden arrives in Europe for G-7 and NATO summits as the world’s leading democracies grapple with war in Ukraine as well as their own domestic issues.
The U.S. has already banned Russian oil imports, and Europe is working to reduce its dependence on Putin’s vast energy reserves. While Russia is selling less oil than in February, when it launched its invasion, its revenues from oil and gas have actually increased as the cost of fuel has shot up.
A price cap, in theory, would keep Russian oil on the market and avoid further upsetting global supplies, while reducing Putin’s ability to profit from it.
But leaders are likely to leave Germany on Wednesday without a firm agreement beyond tasking G-7 finance ministers to figure out how to implement such price limits.
Sullivan said any agreement in principle would still mark a “pretty dramatic step forward” and “one of the more significant outcomes of a G-7 summit.” But he declined to say just how quickly the group might be able to act.
“The single biggest factor here is this is not something that can be pulled off the shelf as a tried and true method,” he said. “It is a new kind of concept to deal with a particularly novel challenge, which is how to effectively deal with a country that’s selling millions of barrels of oil a day.”
“There is no reason, though,” he added, “that if leaders come together around this, there couldn’t be relatively rapid work done on it.”
G-7 members, who on Monday also addressed food shortages and other impacts from the Ukraine war, planned to announce new measures to punish Russia. Those actions are expected to include sanctions aimed at Russia’s state-owned defense companies, restrictions on individuals suspected of war crimes and stealing grain from Ukraine, and additional tariffs on Russian exports.
Leading foreign ministers meet to confront global food insecurity crisis, facing conflict, climate change and COVID. Millions could die.
Biden is set to depart Germany on Wednesday and head to Madrid for a NATO summit, where Ukraine will continue to be the central focus. The organization plans to affirm a new strategic concept, its first in 12 years, that will reflect the changing security calculus across Europe and the West since Putin invaded Ukraine.
Crystallizing the sea change is the group’s likely expansion as Finland and Sweden, after decades of neutrality, have moved to join the defense pact that treats any attack on one member as an attack on all.
Most don’t expect this week’s meetings to see all member nations sign off on the expansion, a requirement for admission. Turkey, most notably, has so far refused to agree to Finland and Sweden’s accession.
Biden, Sullivan said, has not ruled out meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Let’s see how the next 24 hours unfold,” Sullivan said. “There is activity occurring.”
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