The two leaders spoke on the phone shortly after Russia launched its largest air strike yet on Ukraine following the destruction of a bridge linking Russia to the annexed Crimean peninsula over the weekend. Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine’s security services of perpetuating the attack.
Russia’s strikes killed at least 11 civilians, Ukrainian officials said, and knocked out Ukraine’s power grid, leaving parts of the country with no electricity, water, or heat.
Thousands of residents were forced to shelter in bomb shelters throughout the day as missiles rained down on multiple cities, with explosions reported in Kyiv, Lviv, Ternopil, and Zhytomyr in western Ukraine, Dnipro, and Kremenchuk in the center, Zaporizhzhia in the south and Kharkiv in the east.
During Monday’s call, Biden “expressed his condemnation of Russia’s missile strikes across Ukraine, including in Kyiv, and conveyed his condolences to the loved ones of those killed and injured in these senseless attacks” according to a White House readout of the call.
“President Biden pledged to continue providing Ukraine with the support needed to defend itself, including advanced air defense systems,” the readout said.
“He also underscored his ongoing engagement with allies and partners to continue imposing costs on Russia, holding Russia accountable for its war crimes and atrocities, and providing Ukraine with security, economic, and humanitarian assistance,” the statement added.
The White House did not state exactly which air defense systems Biden said he will supply to Zelenskyy during their call but earlier this year, Washington committed to provide Ukraine with National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS)
Those anti-aircraft systems are manufactured by the Norwegian company Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace and used to protect the airspace around the White House and Capitol in Washington. They can be used to strike Russian cruise missiles.
‘Sign’ of Russian Weakness
Zelenskyy’s office also issued a statement on Monday detailing his phone call with Biden which stated that the Ukrainian president informed Washington about the “consequences of the massive missile strikes against civilian infrastructure perpetrated today by the Russian aggressor.”
Zelenskyy said the “strikes against civilian targets throughout Ukraine are a sign of weakness of the Russian army which is losing on the battlefield. It is pure terror” but that Ukraine “will not succumb to the Russian missile blackmail,” according to the statement.
Biden and Zelenskyy also discussed the “importance of air defense, and continued U.S. contributions to increase this capability” the statement adds.
Russia-Ukraine Conflict Escalates
The two leaders also discussed the “upcoming extraordinary meeting of the Group of Seven Leaders (G7) dedicated to Ukraine and most pressing measures of support for Ukraine which can be adopted by the international community,” according to Zelenskyy’s office.
In total, the Biden administration has committed a total of $15.8 billion in military aid to Ukraine since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
The latest promise of advanced air defense systems to Ukraine comes as its conflict with Russia continues to escalate.
On Monday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies, said that some of his country’s 60,000-strong army will deploy with Russian forces near Ukraine.
Lukashenko said the decision was made because Ukraine had been preparing to attack Belarus with help from allies Poland and Lithuania, although he did not provide any evidence relating to such claims.
“Strikes on the territory of Belarus are not just being discussed in Ukraine today, but are also being planned,” Lukashenko said at a meeting on security. “Their owners are pushing them to start a war against Belarus to drag us there.”
Following Lukashenko’s announcement, Polish citizens in Belarus were being advised by the government to leave the country as relations between the two countries increasingly turned sour.
Reuters contributed to this report.