Biden hosts military chiefs as Ukraine crisis intensifies

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WASHINGTON, April 20 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will convene top U.S. military leaders on Wednesday in an annual White House gathering that takes on special significance as the war in Ukraine enters a risky new phase and the United States plans more military aid.

A “variety of topics” will be discussed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and senior military leaders, a National Security Council spokesperson said. The event includes a formal West Wing meeting as well as a dinner in the president’s residence with leaders’ spouses afterward.

While the annual military policy meeting rarely makes news, weighty issues are on the agenda this year, topped by a conflict in Ukraine that officials fear could imperil European security for years to come.

Russia has said it has entered a new stage of its operation and is methodically seeking to “liberate” the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Western allies anticipate Russia’s campaign could last many months, grind to a stalemate and test the battlefield capabilities of Ukrainian fighters.

The United States is expected to announce another military aid package for Ukraine in coming days that could match the $800 million pledged last week.

Russia says it launched what it calls a “special military operation” on Feb. 24 to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine. Kyiv and its Western allies reject that as a false pretext.

U.S. forces are not fighting in Ukraine but are indirectly engaged, arming, training and financing Kyiv’s forces.

A lengthy clash could also test U.S. public support for Washington’s backing of Ukraine. Last month, Biden asked Congress for record peacetime spending on the military for the upcoming fiscal year.

The meeting comes amid questions about the future of NATO forces in Europe, including whether to install a permanent presence on the defense alliance’s eastern border with Russia.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Heather Timmons and Cynthia Osterman

Photo – US President Joe Biden . EPA-EFE/Pete Marovich / POOL

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