It’s become routine since Russia invaded Ukraine: President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speak by phone whenever the U.S. announces a new package of military assistance for Kyiv.
But a phone call between the two leaders in June played out differently from previous ones, according to four people familiar with the call. Biden had barely finished telling Zelenskyy he’d just greenlighted another $1 billion in U.S. military assistance for Ukraine when Zelenskyy started listing all the additional help he needed and wasn’t getting. Biden lost his temper, the people familiar with the call said. The American people were being quite generous, and his administration and the U.S. military were working hard to help Ukraine, he said, raising his voice, and Zelenskyy could show a little more gratitude.
Administration officials said Biden and Zelenskyy’s relationship has only improved since the June phone call, after which Zelenskyy made a statement praising the U.S. for its generous assistance. But the clash reflects Biden’s early awareness that both congressional and public support for sending billions of dollars to Ukraine could begin to fade. That moment has arrived just as the president prepares to ask Congress to greenlight even money for Ukraine.
Biden now faces resistance from some Republicans and Democrats that wasn’t present when Congress approved previous Ukraine funds. The White House has discussed asking Congress for billions of dollars during the lame duck legislative session after the midterm elections.
The White House hasn’t specified an amount publicly. Lawmakers and Ukraine lobbyists hope for $40 billion to $60 billion, and some officials familiar with the discussions expect the number to be roughly $50 billion.
A source familiar with the conversation said that Biden was direct with Zelenskyy about handling the issues in the appropriate military channels but that the exchange wasn’t heated or angry.
Top U.S. officials warn there are no signs the war is ending any time soon.
Before the June 15 phone call, the president’s frustrations with Zelenskyy had been building for weeks, three people familiar with the call said. Biden and some of his top aides felt that the administration was doing as much as it could as quickly as it could but that Zelenskyy continued to focus publicly on only what wasn’t being done.