UNITED NATIONS — President Joe Biden urged world leaders not to abandon Ukraine in its grinding war with Russia, warning that Russia is pinning its hopes on other nations growing "weary" of the fight.
In a speech Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly, Biden suggested that if the U.S. and other nations that have been supplying Ukraine with weapons and money were to withhold support, every nation would feel vulnerable and isolated in the face of an attack.
"If you allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?" Biden said. "I respectfully suggest the answer is no."
Biden's stark condemnation of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and his call for continued aid to the beleaguered nation on Russia's border drew the only round of applause during his half-hour address.
His remarks come at a time when polls shows that U.S. support for Ukraine's defense is beginning to wane. Having pledged to support Ukraine for "as long as it takes," Biden needs to stiffen Americans' resolve in the face of economic pressures they're feeling at home.
He is getting some help on this front. Making a cameo in the U.S. this week is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has emerged as the charismatic face of Ukraine's resistance to Russia's invasion. Biden and Zelenskyy are scheduled to meet Thursday at the White House.
Last year, Zelenskyy addressed the General Assembly by video — not in person.
During the U.N. meetings unfolding this week, “there is no shortage of colorful characters who show up” a senior Biden administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss Zelenskyy’s attendance. “But he is a truly inspirational figure and someone who can personalize the costs of the war. It’s only a net positive.”
Biden's speech at the U.N. is the centerpiece of a trip to Manhattan this week that includes a series of private meetings with world leaders and, separately, fundraising events for his 2024 re-election campaign. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose plan to overhaul the judicial system in his country has sparked fears that the courts will no longer be able to act as a check on executive power.
The meeting could prove to be tense: Biden has advised that Netanyahu "walk away" from the plan, which has spawned mass protests in Israel.
In his address, Biden also discussed the dangers of climate change and the importance of nations acting collectively to solve the world’s most pressing problems — an implicit rebuke of the “America First” approach taken by former President Donald Trump, his chief rival in the presidential race. (In a speech to the general assembly in 2018, Trump drew a laugh from the audience when he boasted that his achievements as president were virtually without parallel.)
"In every region of the world, the United States is mobilizing strong alliances, versatile partnerships, common purpose, collective action, to bring new approaches to our shared challenges," Biden said.
Robert Rae, the Canadian ambassador to the U.N., said in an interview with NBC News after Biden's address that the president's message was an important one and well-received.
"It's true that foreign policy was very different under the previous incumbent [Trump] and it did pose a real challenge to the United Nations as an institution and to all the treaties and understands which relate to it — the whole group of institutions which we've created by working solidly together," Rae said.
It is getting harder by the day for Biden to sell the American public on the war's ongoing importance. A CNN poll last month showed that 51% of the people surveyed believed the U.S. “has done enough” to help Ukraine in the fight against Russia, compared to 48% who want America to do more. At the outset of Russia’s invasion last year, by contrast, 62% believed the U.S. should do more to assist Ukraine.
“Ultimately, Biden understands that time is short,” said a former Biden administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s view of the war. “I don’t think he can sustain the level of funding for much longer. That’s why you’re seeing Zelenskyy [coming to] the White House. It’s all about keeping the pressure up.”
“There’s not a blank check here,” the former official added.
In a sign of growing impatience with the war’s costs, House Republicans put forward a bill this week to avert a government shutdown that included no reference to aid to Ukraine. It is uncertain whether the GOP proposal carries enough support to pass the House.
A Ukrainian victory in the war would be a devastating setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his territorial ambitions. It would also help Biden further isolate an autocratic leader whose actions have unnerved neighboring countries that are part of the NATO alliance.
“I will not side with dictators like Putin,” Biden said at a fundraising event Monday. “Maybe Trump and his MAGA friends can bow down, but I won’t.”