April 15

By Lisa Hagen

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he’s authorizing an additional $800 million in security assistance for Ukraine as the U.S. continues to step up its response and rhetoric about Russia’s invasion, including the president referring to it as “genocide.”

Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an afternoon call informing him about the new round of aid as the president sought to assure that the U.S. “will continue to stand with” Ukraine. The package includes additional weapons and ammunition, specifically artillery systems, artillery rounds and armored personnel carriers. Biden also noted that he approved the transfer of more helicopters and told Zelenskyy he’d consider additional sanctions going forward.

“This new package of assistance will contain many of the highly effective weapons systems we have already provided and new capabilities tailored to the wider assault we expect Russia to launch in eastern Ukraine,” Biden said in a statement.

“The steady supply of weapons the United States and its Allies and partners have provided to Ukraine has been critical in sustaining its fight against the Russian invasion. It has helped ensure that Putin failed in his initial war aims to conquer and control Ukraine.”

More than a month into the invasion, Biden has also escalated his rhetoric about Russia. After recently accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of war crimes, Biden took it a step further on Tuesday during a speech in Iowa by referring to the invasion as a “genocide,” later adding that the determination is up to the international courts.

The label has divided leaders of allied Western countries: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed with Biden, while French President Emmanuel Macron, who’s facing reelection, wasn’t ready to use that term.

“Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should on hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide a half a world away,” Biden said, referring to the sharp increase in gas prices that he has blamed on Russia’s invasion and inflation.

The White House defended his comments that came as a surprise to many watching the speech, which is part of the administration’s tour of rural communities to tout Biden’s agenda and address concerns of rising costs. White House press secretary Jen Psaki made it clear that Biden stands by his remarks and that they were intentional as reporters questioned whether the comment was scripted.

“He called it a genocide yesterday, not once but twice actually, because … it’s becoming clearer and clearer by the day that it is Putin’s aim to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian. That we’re seeing greater brutality increase day by day,” Psaki told reporters at Wednesday’s briefing.

“It would require a legal process. He’s not trying to prejudge a legal process. He was speaking to the atrocities that he saw on the ground, Psaki added about the process to classify whether a genocide was committed.

The administration’s moves come as Congress also ramps up its response to bolster Ukraine. Lawmakers in both parties approved $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine last month. And last week, Congress unanimously passed a ban on oil and gas imports from Russia as well as an end to permanent normal trade relations for Russia and its ally Belarus with the U.S. The bill is now on Biden’s desk for his signature, though he’s made similar moves through executive actions.

More than a month into the invasion, Russia is still pummeling Ukraine and troops are expected to advance toward the east. Earlier in the week, the Pentagon expressed alarm about reports of chemical weapons used against Ukrainian troops in Mariupol and is monitoring the situation. Psaki said Wednesday she didn’t have an update into whether such weapons were employed.