SEOUL, South Korea — President Joe Biden on Saturday signed legislation to support Ukraine with another $40 billion in U.S. assistance as the Russian invasion approaches its fourth month.
The legislation, which was passed by Congress with bipartisan support, deepens the U.S. commitment to Ukraine at a time of uncertainty about the war’s future. Ukraine has successfully defended Kyiv, and Russia has refocused its offensive on the country’s east, but American officials warn of the potential for a prolonged conflict.
The funding is intended to support Ukraine through September, and it dwarfs an earlier emergency measure that provided $13.6 billion.
The new legislation will provide $20 billion in military assistance, ensuring a steady stream of advanced weapons that have been used to blunt Russia’s advances. There’s also $8 billion in general economic support, $5 billion to address global food shortages that could result from the collapse of Ukrainian agriculture and more than $1 billion to help refugees.
Biden signed the measure under unusual circumstances. Because he’s in the middle of a trip to Asia, a U.S. official brought a copy of the bill on a commercial flight to Seoul for the president to sign, according to a White House official.
The logistics reflect a sense of urgency around continuing U.S. support for Ukraine, but also the overlapping international challenges facing Biden. Even as he tries to reorient American foreign policy to confront China, he’s continuing to direct resources to the largest conflict in Europe since World War II.
Biden also signed an unrelated measure, one intended to increase access to baby formula at a time when supplies remain scarce in the United States. The legislation will allow government benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — better known as WIC — to be used to buy more types of infant formula.
Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said after meeting Saturday that they will consider expanded joint military exercises to deter the nuclear threat from North Korea at a time when there’s little hope of real diplomacy on the matter.
Biden said cooperation between the U.S. and South Korea shows “our readiness to take on all threats together.”
The announcement reflects a shift in direction by both leaders from their predecessors: Former U.S. President Donald Trump had considered scrapping the exercises and expressed affection for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. And the last South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, remained committed to dialogue with Kim to the end of his term despite being repeatedly rebuffed by the North.
North Korea, which has defended its nuclear weapons and missile development as a necessary deterrence against what it describes as U.S. threats, could well respond angrily to Saturday’s announcement. It has long described joint military exercises as rehearsals for an invasion, although the allies have portrayed the drills as defensive.
Biden and Yoon affirmed in remarks at a joint news conference that their shared goal is the complete denuclearization of North Korea.