When the secretaries of defense and state publicly said the Biden administration wanted the Ukrainians to win in the conflict with Russia, the president "was not happy" and told them to tone down their rhetoric, an administration official told NBC News.
During a joint trip to Kyiv in April, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the White House wanted Ukraine to win, not simply defend itself, and that the United States' goal was to weaken Russia to the point where another unprovoked invasion would not be possible. Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly supported those comments.
Both secretaries were conferenced into a call with President Joe Biden on their separate flights out of Poland to discuss the resulting headlines about their remarks.
According to several administration officials familiar with the call, the president thought the secretaries had overstepped in their remarks and was concerned about setting unrealistic expectations and increasing the risk of the U.S. and Russia directly engaging in conflict.
“Biden was not happy when Blinken and Austin talked about winning in Ukraine,” one of the officials said. “He was not happy with the rhetoric.”
Another senior official said that the secretaries said Austin’s comments were misunderstood.
Biden’s initial reaction, however, reflects his administration’s belief that the war is turning into a drawn-out conflict, despite the Ukrainians’ surprising success early on, the officials said.
U.S. officials are increasingly worried that the direction of the war in Ukraine is unsustainable and are privately discussing if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy should revamp his inflexible public position that no territory will ever be surrendered to Russia as a condition to end the war, according to a group of current and former U.S. officials and European officials.
When it comes to announcing his red lines on ending the war, some officials would like Zelenskyy to “dial it back a little bit,” one of them said.
Biden is insistent that the U.S. not pressure the Ukrainians to make a decision one way or another and the administration’s position is that Ukraine will determine how and on what terms the war will end.
“We are not pressuring them to make concessions, as some Europeans are,” a U.S. official told NBC. “We would never ask them to cede territory. We are planning for a long war. We intend to prepare the American people for that, and we are prepared to ask Congress for more money.”
On Wednesday, Biden announced another $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine and Congress authorized an additional $40 billion in military and humanitarian aid last month.
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