President Biden said Wednesday that he was “amazed” at how successful Ukraine has been in fighting off Russia’s nearly eight-week-old invasion — calling Ukrainians “tougher and more proud than I thought.”
Biden made the remark while praising US military leaders at the White House for arming and advising Ukraine’s government since Russia began its attack on Feb. 24.
“I want to applaud the exceptional work you’re doing to arm and equip brave Ukrainians to defend their nation,” Biden said in the White House Cabinet Room.
The president, seated between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he wasn’t expecting Kyiv to put up such a strong fight.
“I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to Ukraine a number of times before the war — I’ve spoken to the Rada [Parliament]. I was deeply involved in what was going on in Ukraine. And I knew they were tough and proud,” Biden said.
“But I tell you what, they’re tougher and more proud than I thought. I’m amazed what they’re doing with your help in terms of providing advice and the weaponry we’re providing along with the rest of NATO.”
Biden allegedly told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in January that he should get ready for a “sack” of Kyiv — before Zelensky’s forces fought off invading Russian troops who attempted to capture the capital.
The White House later scrambled to deny Biden made that remark.
Also in January, Biden horrified Ukrainian officials by saying at a press conference that to “minor incursion” by Russia might result in less severe sanctions due to disagreement among NATO allies — with one saying that Biden may have given Putin a “green light” to invade by showing “weakness.”
“We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations,” Zelensky tweeted at the time, rebuking Biden. “Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of a great power.”
An array of admirals and generals from various US military branches joined Biden at the White House for the meeting, which was mostly closed to the public.
The president and first lady Jill Biden hosted dinner for the military chiefs and their spouses after the Cabinet Room discussion.
The meeting comes just one day after reports that the Biden administration is preparing to announce another large military aid package for Ukraine.
Multiple US officials told NBC News that the package will be similar to the $800 million in aid approved by Biden last week — which includes helicopters, artillery and ammunition.
On Tuesday afternoon, the president was pressed by reporters about whether he will be sending more artillery to the embattled Eastern European country.
“Yes,” Biden said simply.
Zelensky claimed Tuesday that if Western nations supplied Ukraine with more weapons and arms earlier in the invasion, Moscow would have already been defeated.
“If we had access to all the weapons we need, which our partners have and which are comparable to the weapons used by the Russian Federation, we would have already ended this war,” Zelensky saidthe Times of London reported.
“We would have already restored peace and liberated our territory from the occupiers, because the superiority of the Ukrainian military in tactics and wisdom is quite obvious.”
Russia recently refocused its attack on eastern areas of Ukraine after meeting stiff resistance near Kyiv and other cities in northern parts of the country.
More than 5 million people have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded and thousands of civilians are believed to be dead, with Zelensky this week blaming Russia for the deaths of “tens of thousands” of people in the city of Mariupol alone.
Despite criticism from Ukraine and at home, Biden has been cautious about the extent of the military aid. He personally nixed the US-facilitated transfer of MiG-29 jet fighters from Poland, citing concern about triggering “World War III.”
Some US troops are preparing to train Ukrainian forces to use howitzer artillery systems. But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that the training had yet to begin.
“There is a plan in place and we’re beginning to execute that plan to get the training done,” Kirby said. “Again, it will be for a daily limited amount of Ukrainian trainers that will then go in and train their colleagues. It will be outside of the country.”