WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s top aides bluntly told lawmakers in a private meeting on Wednesday that if Congress fails to authorize additional military aid for Ukraine in the coming days, Russia could win the war in a matter of weeks — months at best, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan and the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the lawmakers that Ukraine will run out of certain air defense and artillery capabilities in the coming weeks, according to the people familiar with the meeting.
The grim assessment, which one White House official described as “incredibly stark,” was delivered as the future of Ukraine aid has never been more uncertain. It also comes as White House officials are increasingly alarmed at the prospect of Biden failing to follow through with his promise that the U.S. will be there for Kyiv “as long as it takes.”
In Wednesday’s meeting at the White House, Sullivan and Haines gave the top congressional leaders a classified time frame for when Ukraine’s key military resources will be significantly depleted, and a detailed assessment of the current dynamics on the battlefield, the two people familiar with the meeting said.
While Sullivan did not predict an outright imminent victory for Russia, a White House official said, he emphasized that Ukraine’s position would grow more difficult over the course of the year by offering specific date ranges of when the country will run low on various capabilities in the short-term.
The president’s aides told the lawmakers that the lack of aid would affect far more than Ukraine and could prompt other countries that rely on the U.S., including Japan and South Korea, to rethink their alliances, according to the people familiar with the meeting. Their message, these people said, was that a Russian victory simply because the U.S. couldn’t come through “will reverberate around the world.”
The bipartisan group of congressional leaders at the meeting agreed that providing aid to Ukraine is a national security priority, but acknowledged that there are disagreements about how to proceed legislatively, these people said.
Ukraine aid, which has been held up in Congress for months, is part of legislation that also provides funding for Israel, Taiwan and U.S. border security. In October, Biden requested an additional $60 billion in military aid for Ukraine, some of which would be used to replenish U.S. stockpiles. Congress has previously authorized about $75 billion in Ukraine aid.
For weeks last fall, White House officials expressed confidence that Congress would pass more aid, noting that the majority of Republicans and Democrats supported it. But resistance from some congressional Republicans has stalled the legislation, and negotiations by a bipartisan trio in the Senate over policy changes at the southern border, a top priority for Republicans, have been rocky.
Though outstanding issues on the border portion of the bill remain, Senate leaders from both parties expressed optimism this week that the upper chamber could soon take up the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters after the White House meeting that he puts chances of a deal at “more than half,” and later said they could begin processing the legislation as early as next week.
The legislation’s fate in the House is far more uncertain.
Biden has warned for months, including in an Oval Office address to the nation, that a lack of new aid would be dire for Ukraine and the broader world order. The White House said last month that it had provided Ukraine with the last of available U.S. funds, a pronouncement that drew skepticism from some lawmakers, including even those who support Ukraine aid.
Sullivan and Haines predicted overall that, without more U.S. military aid, Ukrainian forces could only continue fighting the Russians for weeks, maybe months, according to the people familiar with the meeting. Russian President Vladimir Putin is making battlefield decisions based on Ukraine’s vulnerabilities since the Biden administration said last month it had provided Kyiv with the last of authorized U.S. military assistance, a White House official said.
For instance, Sullivan and Haines told the lawmakers, it’s no coincidence that Putin launched his largest aerial assault since the war began in February 2022 after Congress went home last month without approving additional aid, according to the people familiar with the meeting.
The president’s aides made the case that Ukraine is much more susceptible to Moscow’s attacks while Congress is at a standstill, these people said.
The two people familiar with Wednesday’s meeting said the administration officials went into greater detail on the U.S. assessment of Ukraine now and in the future.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — who traveled to Washington twice in the last five months to personally make a case for the aid — has taken an uncharacteristically muted stance as military aid for his country remains uncertain. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week, the usually animated Zelenskyy appeared more subdued and did not make public appeals for help, according to a senior administration official.
It’s a shift welcomed by the Biden administration, the official said, as some officials have felt Zelenskyy has overplayed his hand in the past by applying too much pressure on Congress.
In Davos, Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought to reassure Zelenskyy that there’s still broad, bipartisan support in Congress to provide funding to Ukraine and said officials were working through the process, the senior administration official said.
On Friday, Biden cautioned that unrest could spread in Europe if Congress fails to pass additional Ukraine aid.
“If we walk away, and Russia is able to sustain their onslaught and bring down Ukraine, what do you think’s going to happen in the Balkan countries?” Biden said during an event with American mayors. “It changes the dynamic.”