Biden Meets With Zelensky in France

President Biden used the backdrop of the beaches at Normandy on Friday to argue that defending democracy in Ukraine and around the world in 2024 is as vital as the day that American troops joined the allies on D-Day to begin rescuing Europe from the grip of Hitler’s tyranny.

“As we gather here today,” he said, “it’s not just to honor those who showed such remarkable bravery that day, June 6, 1944. It’s to listen to the echo of their voices. To hear them. Because they are summoning us.”

“They’re not asking us to scale these cliffs,” Mr. Biden added during remarks at the edge of the same cliff where Ronald Reagan delivered a similar speech on democracy four decades ago. “They’re asking us to stay true to what America stands for.”

Mr. Biden delivered the speech just hours after he apologized to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine for the monthslong delay in approving military aid, blaming it on conservative Republican opposition. But he vowed to stand by Ukraine against Russian aggression, comparing the fight in Eastern Europe to the battles for freedom during World War II.

“I apologize for the weeks of not knowing what was going to pass, in terms of funding, because we had trouble getting the bill that we had to pass, that had the money in it,” Mr. Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart ahead of a private meeting in Paris. “Some of our very conservative members were holding it up.”

But Mr. Biden said his administration “finally” got the funding approved and he promised to continue supporting Ukraine’s war effort.

“You are the bulwark against the aggression that is taking place,” he said. “We’re still in. Completely. Thoroughly.”

The meeting and Mr. Biden’s commitment of support comes at a critical juncture in the war with Russia, as the two allies seek ways to reverse the momentum on the battlefield that has helped the forces of President Vladimir V. Putin.

Mr. Zelensky thanked Mr. Biden for what he called “significant support” from the United States as his forces battle Russia, and he compared the American effort to the fight against Hitler 80 years ago.

“During World War II, the United States helped to save human lives, to save Europe,” Mr. Zelensky said. “And we count on your continuing support and standing with us, shoulder to shoulder. Thank you so much.”

The two men are participating in ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, which helped turn the tide against Nazi Germany in World War II. Mr. Biden will travel later in the day back to Normandy to deliver a speech honoring U.S. soldiers and linking that long-ago war to today’s conflict in Ukraine.

The meeting was the first between the American and Ukrainian leaders since December, and follows a decision by Mr. Biden last week to give permission to Ukraine to fire U.S.-provided weapons into Russian territory. That was a reversal in policy after more than two years of limits intended to avoid an escalation with a nuclear-powered adversary.

But Mr. Biden loosened the restrictions only enough to authorize strikes against military targets just over the border in the northeast to defend Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Long-range strikes deeper into Russia are still banned.

In his brief remarks, Mr. Zelensky referred obliquely to Mr. Biden’s policy shift, indicating that it had been helpful to his forces.

“Your decisions have had a very positive influence,” he said. “I don’t want to share everything, all the details with press, sorry, but there are some details on the battlefield that you need to hear from us.”

Mr. Zelensky’s comments appeared to betray an ongoing frustration at the restraint, and a desire for latitude to use the weapons for more than the limited self-defense currently allowed in the Kharkiv area.

The Ukrainians are also disappointed that Mr. Biden will not attend a peace summit in Switzerland on June 15 organized by Mr. Zelensky. Vice President Kamala Harris and Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, are to attend instead.

Even though it did not meet all of Mr. Zelensky’s wishes, Mr. Biden’s reversal on the use of U.S. weapons against targets inside Russia — a tactic also endorsed by other NATO countries — provoked a predictably prickly response from Mr. Putin, who suggested a tit-for-tat retaliation.

Speaking with reporters in St. Petersburg, Mr. Putin suggested this week that such a move meant that Russia had “the right to send our weapons of the same class to those regions of the world where strikes can be made on sensitive facilities of the countries that do this against Russia.”

The United States has been the most important supplier of arms to Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. But Mr. Biden has at times been slow to provide more sophisticated weaponry for fear of provoking an escalation with Moscow, and House Republican leaders blocked additional military aid for six months, leaving Ukrainian defenders scraping for ammunition and weapons just as Russia was pressing forward with fierce assaults.

Congress finally passed a $61 billion aid package in April and the weapons are now flowing again. On Friday, Mr. Biden announced a $225 million package that he told Mr. Zelensky was designed to “help you reconstruct the electric grid.” American officials said the funding included money for air defenses that could, among other things, defend an energy grid that has been badly degraded by relentless Russian assaults.

The session with Mr. Zelensky was the first of two in coming days for Mr. Biden, who also plans to see his Ukrainian counterpart at the Group of 7 meeting later next week in Italy.

“It’s a signal of the depth of our commitment to Ukraine at this vital moment,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters this week. “And this opportunity for the president and Zelensky to sit down twice will really allow them to go deep on every aspect and every issue in the war.”

Mr. Biden’s speech on Friday afternoon in Normandy is meant to further link the struggle to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny with the effort to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression eight decades later, extending a theme he articulated at a ceremony on Thursday.

He will speak from Pointe du Hoc, where Army Rangers scaled 100-foot cliffs on D-Day to take out a suspected German gun emplacement, one of the most daring moments of the invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944.

In doing so, Mr. Biden will follow in the footsteps of President Ronald Reagan, who delivered one of the most memorable speeches of his presidency at Pointe du Hoc in 1984, and make a similar case for American leadership and democracy on the world stage at a time of isolationist strains at home.

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