President Biden was expected to announce additional aid to Ukraine around midday Wednesday following an emotional speech to Congress by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Biden, facing bipartisan pressure to grant Zelensky’s request to facilitate the transfer of MiG-29 fighter jets from Poland, is expected instead to announce $800 million in new US military aid.
Biden axed Poland’s plan to transfer 28 Soviet-designed fighter jets last week after Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Poland had a “green light” to move forward, which the Warsaw government hoped to do with US help.
During his virtual remarks to Congress, Zelensky also asked the US to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which members of both parties in Congress largely oppose because it would raise the possibility of direct fighting between the US and Russia.
Since Russian troops rolled across Ukraine’s borders on Feb. 24, Biden has imposed harsh economic sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government and Russia’s economy — though many of those steps followed pressure from Congress.
Days after the invasion began, Biden responded to intense pressure and imposed sanctions on Putin’s vast personal wealth and reached an agreement with US allies to partially unplug Russia from the SWIFT international banking system.
As a broad bipartisan alliance in Congress readied legislation to force his hand, Biden last week announced an import ban on Russia oil, natural gas and coal.
Zelensky outlined new potential areas of pressure as Biden prepares to attend a NATO summit in Belgium next week, including a call to impose economic sanctions on “all politicians in the Russian Federation” and a request for S-300 surface-to-air missiles.
Ukraine is not formally a US ally, but the American government has donated about $3 billion in military aid since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and fomented rebellion by a pair of pro-Moscow separatist states in eastern Ukraine.
But Biden said last week that helping Poland transfer fighter jets to Ukraine could spark “World War III.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said March 10 that US officials assessed “that adding aircraft to the inventory is not likely to significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian air force relative to Russian capability.”
“The Ukrainian air force has several squadrons of fully mission-capable aircraft and although Russian air capabilities are significant, their effectiveness has been limited due to Ukrainian strategic operational and tactical ground-based air defense systems,” she added.
A senior US defense official said Friday that Ukraine is believed to still have 56 fighter jets that are able to fly about five to 10 missions a day within the country.
It’s unclear why Ukraine has not used its air force to bomb a miles-long Russian convoy north of the capital city, Kyiv, though some experts speculate that Ukrainian leaders are reserving equipment for a potential counterattack if enemy forces get closer to the capital.