Biden delivered the news of the assistance package during a 58-minute phone call with Zelensky from the Oval Office on Wednesday. There was one item Zelensky asked Biden for directly: Mi-17 helicopters. According to a source familiar, the helicopters had initially not been included in the package as of Tuesday night because US officials weren't clear on whether the Ukrainians wanted or needed them at this time. Zelensky made clear to the President on Wednesday that they did.
'A little bit like Kansas'
The weapons being provided are focused on the type of fighting that's likely to take place in the Donbas region -- open terrain rather than the close fighting in urban and wooded areas that's occurred in areas around Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. The region also borders southwest Russia, allowing Russian forces to avoid the sorts of sustainment, logistics and communication problems that derailed their all-out invasion of the country nearly from the beginning.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Wednesday that the package was tailored to the fight in Donbas, a topography he described as "a little bit like Kansas." "It's a little bit flatter. It's a little bit more open. And it's the kind of place where we can anticipate that the Russians will want to use tanks and long-range fires, artillery and rocket fire to achieve some of their objectives before committing ground troops," Kirby said.
The new weapons package, Kirby added, was "very much an effort to give the Ukrainians every possible advantage in this fight that's coming."
The Biden administration has faced bipartisan pressure to do more to help Ukraine, particularly in calls to send more powerful weapons. But the administration resisted for weeks, wary of how Russian President Vladimir Putin, with his forces already deployed, would respond. Officials warned the Kremlin may see it as escalatory or an indication that the United States was joining the fight.
The issue was most acutely felt with the MiG-29 fighter jets Ukraine requested. The administration refused to take part in a transfer of the Soviet-era jets from a third country to Ukraine via the United States, rejecting a proposal from Poland.
The US worried, Kirby said on March 9, that "the transfer of combat aircraft right now could be mistaken by Mr. Putin and the Russians as an escalatory step." A large part of the concern internally was over the proposal to fly them into Ukraine from a NATO air base.
Now the rhetoric of the Biden administration appears to have shifted along with the scope of the war. As the US prepares to send in the types of weapons it has not sent since the invasion began, the Pentagon insisted this was part of the US commitment "from the very beginning" to help Ukraine defend itself.
"How that gets interpreted by the Russians -- you can ask Mr. Putin and the Kremlin," Kirby said Wednesday.
'Growing coordinated support
For weeks, Zelensky pleaded with world leaders for more arms and equipment. In March, he spoke with the parliaments of 17 countries, as well as three international organizations. He never strayed far from his core message: Ukraine needs more weapons.
He asked Congress for new air defense systems to help defend Ukraine's skies. He requested 1% of NATO's tanks and planes to fight back against Russian forces. And he sought more weapons from Belgium, warning that if Ukraine loses, the European Union loses.
But his calls for heavier firepower went largely unanswered. For the most part, countries sent more small arms ammunition, anti-armor missiles and anti-aircraft missiles, as well as protective and medical equipment.
Now, with Russian forces preparing for a massive assault on the Donbas region, the tide is turning.
"The envelope of what people are prepared to provide has grown considerably in the last couple of weeks," the US official said. Once Ukrainian forces were able to hold off the Russian invasion for the first few days, it put the options for security assistance "very quickly in a different place."
Slovakia provided Ukraine with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. The Czech Republic sent in T-72 tanks. The United Kingdom announced that it would ship 120 armored vehicles to Ukraine. And now the United States has authorized a range of new and more powerful weapons.
As a sign of the coordination on assistance to Ukraine, the European Union announced it would provide another $544 million in aid on the same day the White House authorized its own $800 million.
IMAGE SOURCE: PIXABAY