Biden promises to follow Ukraine’s lead on talks, push Russia on Griner

Last updated on November 10, 2022

President Joe Biden vowed not to try to dictate any talks between Russia and Ukraine as the dueling countries approach winter, saying that both sides will “lick their wounds” and decide whether they’ll compromise to end the war.

During a briefing Wednesday evening, Biden pledged that the United States is “not going to tell [Ukraine] what they have to do.” That comes a day after POLITICO reported that U.S. officials had influenced Ukrainian President Volodymy Zelenskyy’s decision to shift his stance on negotiations with Russia.

The comments come as the U.S. awaits results of midterm elections that could reshape ongoing aid to Ukraine. Biden hit a number of foreign policy notes in his speech, pledging also to continue negotiating for WNBA star Brittney Griner’s release and discuss China’s attitude toward Taiwan with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The message: The administration is engaging abroad, and pressing adversaries when needed.

When asked if aid to Ukraine would continue if Republicans take control of the House, Biden said he predicts most politicians on the right would support continuing aid to the country, despite House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s suggestion to stop providing Ukraine with a “blank check.”

“I would be surprised if leader McCarthy even has a majority of his Republican colleagues who say they’re not going to fund the legitimate defensive needs in Ukraine,” Biden said, calling Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine “the ugliest aggression that’s occurred since World War II on a massive scale.”

He also called the timing of Russia’s retreat from Kherson “interesting,” considering the announcement came shortly after the midterm election. Nonetheless, he said, the retreat suggests that Russian troops “have some real problems.”

On Griner, who is being transferred to a penal colony to serve her nine-year sentence, the president reiterated that talks with Russia are ongoing to secure her release. It’s been widely reported that the U.S. has offered convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in a prisoner exchange for Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine detained in Moscow four years ago.

Now that the midterm elections are over, Biden said he’s hopeful that “there’s a willingness to negotiate more specifically with us.” When asked if he could specify details about “alternative potential ways forward” that White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre suggested in a statement Wednesday, Biden cautioned that “it would not be a wise thing to do in order to see if they would move forward.”

Asked if he would bring up Taiwan during a face-to-face meeting with Xi next week at the G-20 meeting in Indonesia, Biden initially pivoted, highlighting his extensive relationship and history of talks with the leader. He also said the Taiwan Doctrine “has not changed at all from the very beginning, so I’m sure we’ll discuss Taiwan, and I’m sure we’ll discuss a number of other issues.”

At the meeting, Biden said he intends to “lay out what each of our red lines are … and determine whether they conflict with one another.”

“I’ve told him I’m looking for competition, not conflict,” Biden added.

Pressed on Taiwan again, and whether or not the U.S would commit to defending the island nation from Chinese aggression, Biden offered a vague concession:

“I’m going to have that conversation with him,” he said.

Regarding China’s relationship with Russia, it’s unlikely that Xi has much respect for the neighboring country, Biden said, suggesting that there’s no “particular alliance” between the two.

When asked if he needs to speak with Xi about arms control, Biden said although the leader wants to cultivate the strongest military and largest economy in the world, “he’s a long way from both.