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President Biden said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “didn’t want to hear it” when US intelligence officials warned of an impending Russian attack ahead of the February 24 invasion, according to the Associated Press.
Biden, who has worked with Congress to deepen U.S. involvement in the global effort to thwart the Russian invasion by recently completing more than $40 billion in new military and humanitarian assistance, was speaking at a fundraiser Friday night, according to the AP of Democrats in Los Angeles and Bloomberg News. Speaking of America’s commitment to assist Ukraine four months into the invasion, the President said, “It hasn’t happened since World War II.”
During his presentation, Biden also mentioned that his government, based on US intelligence, had warned Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian government before the invasion would begin.
“I know a lot of people thought maybe I was exaggerating,” the president said, according to the AP.
Biden said he “knew we had data to get” that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “going in, off the border.”
“There was no doubt about it, and Zelensky didn’t want to hear it, and neither did a lot of people,” Biden said, according to Bloomberg. “I understand why they didn’t want to hear it, but [Putin] went in.”
However, Ukrainian officials dismissed Biden’s account.
Serhiy Nykyforov, a spokesman for Zelenskyi, told Ukrainian news site LIGA.net that in the run-up to the invasion, Zelenskyi had three or four phone calls with Biden in which the two leaders discussed the situation. He added that Ukraine has called for preventive sanctions to de-escalate the situation.
“So the phrase ‘don’t want to hear’ probably needs clarification,” Nykyforov said.
Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak echoed Nykyforov, telling LIGA.net that Ukraine was aware that Russia was planning an invasion but that questions remained about the extent of any attack.
“It is absurd to accuse a country of resisting the aggressor for more than 100 days, which applies when key countries have failed to preventively stop Russia,” he said.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Saturday.
Biden’s comments come as Ukraine is on the verge of losing the eastern Luhansk region to Russia and warns that its underperforming military desperately needs faster Western arms shipments. Fierce street fighting continues in the strategic city of Severodonetsk, but “most of the city is controlled by Russians,” the Luhansk governor said on Saturday.
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Kiev’s European allies have vowed to step up military aid — though many seem hesitant amid Ukraine’s bid for membership of the European Union. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrived in Kyiv on Saturday to discuss Ukraine’s EU candidacy with Zelenskyy ahead of a Commission recommendation on Ukraine’s status expected next week.
As the United States and its allies plot a protracted war in Ukraine, Biden has made no secret that Americans would continue to support Zelensky and the Ukrainian people with aid and arms. The Senate recently passed legislation totaling $20 billion in military aid, expected to fund the transfer of advanced weapon systems such as Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and long-range artillery. The bill also includes more than $8 billion in general economic support for Ukraine, nearly $5 billion in global food aid to address potential food shortages sparked by the collapse of Ukraine’s agribusiness and more than $1 billion US dollars in combined support for refugees.
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Biden recently confirmed that his administration is deploying advanced medium-range missile systems to Ukraine, responding to an urgent request from Ukrainian officials who said the weapons were necessary to stem the advance of Russian forces in the east. Biden’s announcement drew an angry backlash from Kremlin officials, who said they “believe the United States is intentionally and diligently ‘putting fuel on the fire.'”
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But before the invasion, some questioned whether Zelenskyy was prepared for the Russian attack.
When senior US and European officials sounded the alarm in January that Putin could send troops and tanks across the border, the Ukrainian leader called for calm and urged his citizens not to panic. Zelenskyy had said – repeatedly – that he was not convinced that a Russian attack was imminent.
“Take a deep breath,” he said in a video posted on his official website on Jan. 19. “Chill out.”
When Zelensky acknowledged a possible Russian attack earlier this year, he was trying to avoid, as he put it, “panics in the markets, panics in the financial sector,” knowing that a possible war would worry Ukraine’s economy.
On Friday night, Biden again took aim at Putin, whom he has blamed for some of the historic inflation in the United States. Biden accused the Russian president of “trying to erase that [Ukrainian] Culture, not just the nation, but the culture,” according to Bloomberg.
Podolyak told Interfax that the Ukrainian government recognizes the possibility of an invasion.
“Ukraine understood the intentions of the Russians, expected one or another aggressive scenario, prepared for it,” he said.
He added that Zelenskyy had “high-quality intelligence” before the invasion and that the scale of the attack surprised not only Ukraine but the whole world.
“The President has also carefully responded to every word and warning from our partners. The question has always been what the scope of the invasion will be?” said Podolyak. “Undoubtedly, the scale of the invasion we saw on February 24 shocked many countries, including our partners.”