“The idea that we have held back security assistance to Ukraine is nonsense,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Reports based on anonymous sources claim the White House halted the package, which is believed to be worth up to $100 million and include lethal weapons, after Russia began removing some troops from the Russia–Ukraine border.
Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Washington Post that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “drawdown should not have triggered a drawdown of U.S. support.”
Psaki noted that the White House provided a $150 million package to Ukraine, including lethal assistance, before the Biden–Putin summit took place.
“We have now provided the entire amount appropriated by Congress through the Ukraine security assistance initiative,” she said.
“We have also prepared contingency funds in the event of a further Russian incursion into Ukraine. As President Biden told President Putin directly, we will stand unwavering in support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Russian and Ukraine tensions have continued for years, heightened after Russia invaded Crimea during the Obama administration. Biden was vice president at the time.
The White House earlier this month said it wouldn’t arrange a Biden meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, prior to the U.S.–Russia summit. Zelensky told Axios recently that he wanted to speak with Biden about Russia, noting that the White House had waived sanctions on the company and CEO overseeing the construction of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline.
The pipeline “is a weapon” for Russia, Zelensky said, noting that Putin has threatened to cut off access to the pipeline unless Ukraine shows “good will,” Reuters reported.
Zelensky also said he learned through the press the reason for the sanction withdrawal, which Biden has said was warranted by efforts to improve “European relations.”
Biden opted to speak with Zelensky by phone, assuring him that he’ll “stand up firmly” for the sovereignty of Ukraine, formerly part of the Soviet Union, and also invited Zelensky to visit Washington this summer.
Republicans have accused the Biden administration of being soft on Russia, citing the end of Nord Stream sanctions; the reports that the White House paused security aid drew fresh criticism.
“Remember when freezing military aid to Ukraine was an impeachable offense?” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote on Twitter.
“Another gift to Russia. We helped Ukraine defend itself, but Biden is now taking us ‘back’ to American weakness and apologies,” added Mike Pompeo, former secretary of state.