WASHINGTON – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will meet with President Joe Biden and address Congress on Wednesday in his first trip outside his country since Russia began its violent invasion of Ukraine in February.
Biden invited Zelenskyy to Washington to reinforce the United States “standing with Ukraine as long as it takes,” according to a senior Biden administration official who discussed the trip on condition of anonymity.
During their meeting, Biden will pledge $2 billion in additional U.S. security aid to send Patriot anti-militian batteries to Ukraine amid the city’s bombardment by Russian missiles and drones.
Zelensky on joint address to Congress, set for later in the evening, as lawmakers prepare to vote on an additional $45 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine. The US has provided about $68 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid to Ukraine since the renewed violence between it and Russia.
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Zelenskyy’s visit will mark the 300th day since Russia invaded Ukraine. In a letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested that lawmakers should travel to Washington on Wednesday for a “very special focus on democracy” that night.
“It would be an honor for the United States Congress to have an absolute hero in the United States Congress, fighting for democracy, leading people who are fighting for democracy,” Pelosi told reporters.
Zelenskyy’s trip will be the first time the Ukrainian president has left his country since the Russian invasion. But this is not the first time he has visited the United States – he met with Biden in September 2021, standing in the Oval Office for photos with the president and discussing matters of state related to the two nations.
Biden and Zelenskyy discussed the upcoming visit during a Dec. 11 phone call, according to the official, and the White House formally extended the invitation last Wednesday. Zelenskyy took Sunday. The US consulted with Zelenskyy about security parameters, the official said, and Zelenskyy agreed.
Biden and Zelenskyy will discuss “all aspects” of Russia’s war in Ukraine including “where the war goes from here,” the official said.
White House spokesman John Kirby, speaking at a briefing last week, said the Biden administration has “no expectation” that winter will end fighting in the region.
“There are no signs, certainly no prospects, that the war will end by the end of the year,” said Kirby. “None of the indicators are pointing in that direction.”
Lawmakers are rushing to pass a $1.7 trillion spending package before Christmas that includes $45 billion for Ukraine, a boost from the $37 billion Biden requested for the latest round of aid. The increase comes amid concerns that funding could be harder to come by next year when Republicans take control of the House.
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In a video released by his office on Tuesday, Zelenskyy hinted at his trip to the US where he was presented with a Ukrainian flag while in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
“The guys handed us our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures to pass on,” Zelenskyy said in the video. “We are not in an easy situation. The enemy is increasing his weapons, and our people are braver and need more powerful weapons. We will pass it from the boys to the Congress, to the President of the United States. We appreciate their support, but it is not enough. It’s a hint – it’s not enough.”
The Patriot mobile missile system is one of the most advanced in the US arsenal and can launch aircraft or ballistic missiles in all weather conditions.
Ukraine is desperate for air defense systems to counter a barrage of Russian missiles and drones aimed at power plants and other civilian targets. US officials credit Ukraine’s ingenuity with older Soviet-era air defense systems for denying Russia the ability to gain control of Ukrainian airspace.
Patriot batteries are in high demand worldwide and require extensive training to operate.
Contributing to: Associated Press