German soldiers assigned to Surface Air and Missile Defense Wing 1 fire the Patriot weapons system at the NATO Missile Firing Installation during Artemis Strike Nov. 7, 2017, in Chania, Greece.

German soldiers assigned to Surface Air and Missile Defense Wing 1 fire the Patriot weapons system at the NATO Missile Firing Installation during Artemis Strike Nov. 7, 2017, in Chania, Greece. (Sebastian Apel/U.S. Department of Defense)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced more than $2 billion in new aid for Ukraine as he welcomed the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to the White House and pledged continued U.S. support to the embattled nation.

“We will stay with you for as long as it takes,” Biden told Zelenskyy during a news conference in the East Room of the White House.

The two leaders met at the White House to discuss the military, strategic and financial needs that will allow Ukraine to keep fighting off a Russia invasion that began in February.

“Three hundred days since [Russian President Vladimir] Putin launched an unprovoked, unjustified all-out assault on the free people of Ukraine,” Biden said. “Three hundred days of the Ukrainian people showing Russia and the world their steel backbone, their love of country and their unbreakable determination to choose their own path.”

In Biden’s remarks, he underscored more than $2 billion in new aid for Ukraine — $1.85 billion in military aid and almost $400 million in humanitarian assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

As part of the military aid, the United States for the first time is sending a Patriot air-defense missile system to Ukraine to help its troops defend against aerial attacks from Russian forces. The Patriot system gives Ukraine “critical long-range capability to defend its airspace,” a senior defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters earlier Wednesday at the Pentagon.

Officials and news reports for weeks have hinted the U.S. was preparing to send a Patriot battery to Ukraine, which Zelenskyy has been requesting. The surface-to-air missile system was added to the U.S. arsenal in the 1980s and now comes in several variants. It’s the primary missile system used by the Army and various versions have been sold to other countries such as Germany, Poland and Israel.

“It’s going to take some time to complete necessary training, but the Patriot battery will be another critical asset for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression,” Biden said at the news conference. “You will never stand alone when Ukraine’s freedom is threatened.”

Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington is his first trip outside Ukraine since the Russian war began 10 months ago and his first to the White House since he met with Biden there in September 2021.

“I am grateful to President Biden for his personal efforts, his steps that unite partners,” Zelenskyy said at the news conference. “The strongest element of this package is the Patriot battery system, something that will strengthen our air defense. This is a very important step.”

Biden also noted $45 billion in future aid for Ukraine that is contained in a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill, which aims to fund the government through September 2023. Lawmakers hope to pass the bill and send it to Biden’s desk for his signature before the end of the week.

The senior defense official emphasized the Patriot system is being sent to help bolster Ukraine’s air defenses, not serve as the end-all solution to the war. Some experts on Wednesday agreed with that assessment.

“Once deployed with a fully trained crew, the Patriot will provide a useful capability that will fill some gaps in Ukraine’s air defenses and increase Ukraine’s capability,” Center for Strategic and International Studies senior adviser Mark Cancian and senior fellow Tom Karako said in a statement, but added the impact will be limited.

“It will protect only one piece of the country against certain kinds of threats. It will not put a protective bubble over all or even large parts of Ukraine,” they said.

CSIS is a Washington-based think tank that specializes in matters of defense and security, politics and finance.

Also included with the new aid are thousands of mortar rounds and ammunition, mine-resistant vehicles, more than 100 Humvees, thousands of grenade launchers and other small arms and Joint Direct Attack Munitions kits, or JDAMs, which turn “dumb bombs” into precision-guided bombs.

The senior defense official said it will take U.S. troops several months to train Ukrainians to use the Patriot missile system.

Wednesday’s aid package came less than a week after the Pentagon announced it will expand U.S. training for Ukrainian forces beginning in January. Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, said the move will ramp up training in Germany for Ukrainian troops to gain more complex battle skills.

For much of December, Russia has cautioned the United States against sending a Patriot system to Ukraine, warning it would constitute a “provocation” that could draw a response from Moscow. On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov issued a similar statement.

"[U.S.] arms deliveries are still underway and the range of weapons is broadening,” he told reporters, according to state-run Russian media. “This certainly leads to an escalation of the conflict and does not bode well for Ukraine.”

Including Wednesday’s aid package, the United States has given Ukraine more than $21 billion in military assistance since the Russian invasion started Feb. 24.

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Doug G. Ware covers the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. He has many years of experience in journalism, digital media and broadcasting and holds a degree from the University of Utah. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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