US pauses lethal military aid to Ukraine amid Joe Biden summit with Vladimir Putin, report says

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 (Getty Images)
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The White House froze a $100m military aid package to Ukraine of short-range air defence systems, anti-tank weapons and small arms ahead of this week’s US-Russia summit in Geneva, according to Politico.

Press secretary Jen Psaki late Friday released a statement calling the report that the administration held back security assistance "nonsense", and said the US remains unwavering in its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.

"Just last week – in the run-up to the US-Russia Summit – we provided a $150 million package of security assistance, including lethal assistance," she said.

It comes after Politico quoted multiple anonymous sources "familiar with internal deliberations" saying a lethal aide proposal was put on ice after Russia announced a drawdown of troops near Ukraine in the lead up to the high-stakes meeting between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin.

The package of lethal and non-lethal aid, first reported by The Washington Post, was considered by the Biden administration in response to an estimated 100,000 Russian troops, along with rocket battalions and heavy armour units, amassing near the Ukraine border with Crimea.

The reduction of those troops from late April lead to the tabled package, the Post reported, but it could still be quickly sent to Ukraine if Russia expands its presence on the border.

The reported pause in aid to Ukraine came as the administration waived sanctions against the Russian company behind the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in a major coup for the Kremlin.

Mr Biden was non-committal when asked during his Europe visit for a "yes or no" answer about whether Ukraine would the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato), which the Kremlin has said would be a "red line" for Moscow.

"School’s out on that question. It remains to be seen," Mr Biden said. "In the meantime, we will do all we can to put Ukraine in a position to be able to continue to resist Russian physical aggression."

"It depends on whether they meet the criteria. The fact is they still have to clean up corruption and the fact is they have to meet other criteria to get into the action plan," he added.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that the Geneva summit had been positive overall but that Moscow was monitoring Ukraine’s membership status with Nato, according to Reuters.

"This is something we are watching very closely and this really is a red line for us - as regards the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO," Mr Peskov said.

"Of course, this (the question of a membership plan for Ukraine) raises our concerns," he said.

Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky has called for urgent entry into Nato and access to the military weaponry his country lacks, telling The Washington Examiner in a 3 June interview that Russia doesn’t take words seriously, only actions.

“If they see that the only reaction the West can offer is words, they will understand that their hands are untied to that,” he said.

In disputing Politico’s report of a frozen aid package, Ms Psaki referenced the president’s words on keeping Ukraine in a position to resist Russian aggression.

"We have now provided the entire amount appropriated by Congress through the Ukraine security assistance initiative," Ms Paski said.

"We have also prepared contingency funds in the event of a further Russian incursion into Ukraine," she added.

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