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With an increase in funds to Ukraine, the U.S. aims to help it hold off Russia

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

President Biden says additional U.S. support for Ukraine carries a price tag of $33 billion.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen. We either back Ukrainian people as they defend their country, or we stand by as the Russians continue their atrocities and aggression in Ukraine.

MARTINEZ: All right. Let's get some details on what the money will do if Congress approves it. On the line with us is deputy national security Adviser Jonathan Finer. Thanks for being with us.

JONATHAN FINER: Thanks very much.

MARTINEZ: All right. Let's start with the number, $33 billion. What buckets of assistance are you aiming to fill with that money?

FINER: Well, there's three main categories. First, and obviously, what gets the most attention is the security, military assistance that we've been providing to the Ukrainians since, frankly, far before the conflict began. There's another $20 billion or so that's set aside for security assistance to make sure that they have the arms that they need on the battlefield as the conflict shifts to a new phase with the Russians very focused, as you know, on the south and the east of the country. Second is humanitarian assistance, and that goes both to provide support for the Ukrainian people under very difficult circumstances inside their own country, as well as for Ukrainians who have left the country and are now refugees in countries on the periphery and for those countries that are hosting Ukrainian refugees.

A third category is for economic assistance to enable the Ukrainian government to continue to function. You know, it is hard for them under these circumstances to do basic things like collect taxes and generate revenues. And so we are providing some support so that they can continue to provide basic services for the Ukrainian people. And then there is also money for a range of other things like food security. What Russia has done inside Ukraine, which is one of the world's major producers of food and exporters of food, is diminished that supply and created a situation of insecurity. And so we got some funds set aside so the U.S. producers, U.S. farmers can produce more food and so countries that have relied on Ukraine can be provided with some support under these circumstances.

MARTINEZ: And after that first $20 million going to security assistance, $13 million, that's split up with the rest - topics two - three to four, right?

FINER: Correct.

MARTINEZ: OK. The House is out this week. When does the White House hope the Congress will pass this new package?

FINER: Well, look, I will leave that - those considerations to people on the political side of the White House and on the Hill who know those issues far better than I do. What I can say, though, is from the national security perspective, given that Russia has redoubled its efforts on the battlefield in the south and the east of Ukraine and given that we expect this fight to be very intense and to last for some period of time, we think there is an imperative to pass this funding as quickly as possible. And then we will deploy it to get it into the hands of the people who need it immediately.

MARTINEZ: When you say some period of time, how long does the Biden administration expect this to last?

FINER: I mean, the truth is, nobody knows for sure. But we expect that this conflict could last for a period of not just weeks but even months, and that we are going to need to show resolve, as both the United States has and the rest of the international community has, to continue to support Ukraine as it remains under attack by Russian forces.

MARTINEZ: If it continues months, as you say, or maybe even stretches into years, by showing resolve, does that mean an endless supply of cash for Ukraine, considering all the issues and needs that Americans have here at home?

FINER: So what I'd say about that is nothing is endless. We obviously live in a time of finite resources, as we always do. But the president has been clear that so long as Ukraine remains under attack by Russia, the United States will continue to provide support for the people of Ukraine as they wage this fight. We think that the level of support that we've provided up until now has enabled the Ukrainians to have a degree of success on the battlefield. We think we need to continue that. The funds that we have requested yesterday, which the president has said will last for the next five months, we think will enable us to continue to execute this strategy that has enabled the Ukrainians to have the success they've had up till now.

MARTINEZ: So just to be clear, as long as Russia is attacking Ukraine, President Biden is committed to trying to secure as much financial assistance for Ukraine as possible, regardless of how long that lasts.

FINER: What the president has said and what we will execute is support for the Ukrainian people so long as they are under attack from Russia.

MARTINEZ: All right. On the endgame, both money and strategy, I mean, how many more billions do you think it will take to help Ukraine get to a point where they can maybe be independent from us?

FINER: Well, I mean, again, I'm not going to speculate to the infinite future. What we've said is the money that we've requested yesterday, we believe, is enough to sustain this fight for the next five months through the end of this fiscal year. We've laid out the categories with some degree of specificity where they need this money. And we asked Congress to pass it as quickly as they can.

MARTINEZ: But can you understand how, you know, some Americans might feel like, hey, wait a second, I mean, this feels like an endless stream of money heading outside of the country?

FINER: I mean, we get this question from both sides. We get this question from the perspective of kind of why are you not providing more assistance, more support for the government of Ukraine? We think we have provided an amount that has enabled Ukraine to succeed. Russia had much larger ambitions when they started this conflict, to take over the entirety or nearly the entirety of Ukraine, to topple the government of Ukraine in Kyiv. In large part because of our support and because of the bravery in fighting that the Ukrainians have shown on the battlefield, Russia has had to scale back those ambitions. They are now very focused on the south and the east. And we think we need to stay on top of our strategy of providing the support to enable the Ukrainians to succeed. Again, nothing is infinite. Nothing is endless in terms of our support. But we think the level of support we've provided has enabled success up till now, and we think that we are going to continue it so long as Ukraine remains under attack.

MARTINEZ: And so what constitutes remain under attack? I mean, what's an acceptable strategic end to Russia's incursion?

FINER: You know, to a large extent, that is going to be defined by the Ukrainians themselves. They have had some negotiations with the Russians on this. We don't see a lot of progress in those talks. We think both countries at this point are inclined to continue fighting so long as Russia has objectives that the Ukrainians just simply will not be able to live with. But we, you know, are very closely in touch with the Ukrainians on their objectives for the battlefield. You know, they are the ones who are under attack. They are the ones who are trying to defend their territory and their country. They're the ones who will define their war aims. And we are providing support for those efforts. But it's not for us to sort of lay out what the end state of this should be. That is really something for the Ukrainians to decide.

MARTINEZ: All right. That's deputy national security adviser Jonathan Finer. Thanks for taking the time.

FINER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.