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2022 Lawton, Oklahoma Chautauqua June 21 - 25

Nearly 100-days since Russia invaded, Biden pledges new advanced weapons to Ukraine

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The United States has announced another round of military aid for Ukraine - $700 million in weaponry, including an advanced long-range missile system. Well, this brings the total amount of military support for Ukraine so far to close to $5 billion. President Biden announced the move in a New York Times op-ed where he also clarified America's goals in the war.

NPR's White House correspondent Scott Detrow joins me. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, good afternoon.

KELLY: Hey. So I read this op-ed with great interest because there have been a lot of questions as this war approaches the 100-day mark as to what the U.S. goal is, how it's evolving, some of what Biden says it is.

DETROW: Yeah, and he has two big goals here. And the interesting thing, which you get to, is that at some moments, there's been a bit of tension between them, right? On one hand, President Biden is framing this war in Ukraine as an existential struggle for the international rule of law between democracy and autocracy. Here is the broader context that he put this war into during a big speech in Poland about a month into the conflict.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Over the last 30 years, the forces of autocracy have revived all across the globe. Its hallmarks are familiar ones - contempt for the rule of law, contempt for democratic freedom, contempt for the truth itself.

DETROW: So on that front, Biden wrote today that he wants to ensure, as he put it, quote, "a Democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine," as well as a secure Europe. But then at the same time, Biden has a clear other goal - to avoid a direct military confrontation between NATO and Russia, which is something generally viewed as World War III.

KELLY: Well, and that second one is tricky.

DETROW: Yeah.

KELLY: Biden doesn't want a war between NATO and Russia. He's holding this red line - no U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine. But the U.S. keeps sending more weapons, keeps sending more powerful weapons and keeps talking about how much intelligence it's providing to Ukraine to fight Russia. How are they squaring that?

DETROW: Yeah, it's the amount of money spent on weapons that keeps going up. It's also the caliber of the weapons up to today's announcement of these precise and sophisticated long-range missiles. So I asked Fiona Hill about this, and of course, many people remember her from the first Trump impeachment. But she also had a long career as a Russia expert on the National Security Council and was involved in a lot of conversations about military aid for Ukraine. And she said she does not see this as an escalation but more of a direct response to what's happening in the war.

FIONA HILL: Well, it's because of the nature of the battlefield, isn't it? I mean, look, I mean, all of this would have happened. We wouldn't be in these discussions had Vladimir Putin and the security people around him not decided to launch a full-scale invasion into Ukraine.

DETROW: So that framing, that the shift in weapons as a response to a situation on the ground is something that the administration says a lot as well. You know, early on, the anti-tank shoulder-fired missiles were key in stopping the Russian tanks from bearing down on Kyiv. Then as most of the war shifted to eastern Ukraine, into a more open and entrenched kind of war, these long-range artillery and missile systems have been important for the Ukrainian army.

KELLY: Still, is there not some case to be made that there is an escalation happening here on the U.S. end?

DETROW: I think there is. An administration official said today, talking to NPR, that the White House did make it clear to the Kremlin from before the war began that this is how it would respond. But it is important to point out that, all along, the administration has drawn some lines. Remember, early on, Ukraine urged NATO's countries to enforce a no-fly zone. The administration says no, that would effectively be a war with Russia. The White House also backed away from a plan to indirectly supply fighter jets to Ukraine. And this was interesting today - even with this new long-range missile system, officials are repeatedly stressing the U.S. has been given assurances by Ukraine that the missiles would not be fired into Russian territory.

KELLY: All right. NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Thank you.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.