WASHINGTON – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky 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 Zelensky to Washington to strengthen “the US’s stand with Ukraine for 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 assistance to send Patriot anti-missile batteries to Ukraine amid the bombing of cities by Russian missiles and drones.
of Zelensky Joint speech to Congress, scheduled for Later in the evening, it comes as lawmakers prepare to vote on an additional $45 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine. The US has provided approximately $68 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid to Ukraine since the violence between it and Russia resumed.
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Zelensky’s visit will mark the 300th day since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested lawmakers travel to Washington on Wednesday for a “very special focus on democracy” that night.
“To be a complete and total hero in the Congress of the United States, fighting for democracy, a leader of people fighting for democracy, will bring honor to the Congress of the United States,” Pelosi told reporters.
Zelensky’s trip will be the first time a Ukrainian president has left his country since Russia’s attack. But this is not the first time he has visited the US – he met with Biden in September 2021, posed for photos in the Oval Office with the president and discussed matters of state relevant to both countries.
Biden and Zelensky discussed the upcoming visit during a Dec. 11 phone call, the official said, and the White House formally extended the invitation last Wednesday. Zelensky got Sunday. The U.S. consulted with Zelensky about security parameters, the official said, and Zelensky signed off.
Biden and Zelensky will discuss “every element” of Russia’s war in Ukraine including “where the war goes from here,” the official said.
Speaking at a briefing last week, White House spokesman John Kirby said the Biden administration has “no expectation” that winter will quell the fighting in the region.
“There are no indications, certainly no expectations, that by the end of the year the war will be over,” said Kirby. “None of the indicators point 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 that Biden requested for the last round of aid. The increase comes amid concerns that funding may be more difficult to pass next year when Republicans take control of the House.
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In a video released Tuesday by his office, Zelensky hinted at his trip to the U.S. when he was handed a Ukrainian flag while in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.
“The guys handed over our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures for us to pass on,” Zelensky said in the video. “We are in a difficult situation. The enemy is increasing his army, and our people are braver and need stronger weapons. We will convey this from the boys to Congress, to the President of the United States. We are grateful for their support, but it is not enough. This is a hint – it is not enough.”
The Patriot mobile missile system is one of the most advanced in the US arsenal and can shoot down aircraft or ballistic missiles in all weather conditions.
Ukraine is desperate for air defense systems to counter the barrage of Russian missiles and drones targeting 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 Ukraine’s airspace .
Patriot batteries are in demand worldwide and require extensive training to operate.
Contributed by Associated Press