Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a historic speech Wednesday night from the United States Capitol, expressing gratitude for American support in fighting Russian aggression since the war began — and asking for more.
“I hope my words of respect and gratitude resonate in every American heart,” Zelensky said during the joint session of Congress, adding later, “Against all odds, and doom and gloom scenarios, Ukraine has not fallen. Ukraine is alive and kicking.”
Ukraine, the United States and Europe, Zelensky said, defeated Russia by persuasive minds around the world.
“The Russian dictatorship has lost control over us,” he added.
But alongside Zelensky’s gratitude was a plea, stressing that his armed forces were being outnumbered and outnumbered by the Russian military even as they fought. At one point, Zelensky drew laughs from the room when he said, “We have artillery, yes. Thank you. We have it. Is it enough? Honestly, not really.”
Still, despite this disparity in resources, Zelensky said, “Ukraine stands its ground and will never surrender.”
Zelensky, sources told CNN’s Jake Tapper, is expected to recall Winston Churchill – another famous wartime leader – in what was billed as an inspirational speech. He is expected to discuss a peace formula that he told US President Joe Biden about during a previous meeting at the White House. He will also express a willingness to hold some kind of peace summit this winter.
In his words, Zelensky addresses the American people, points out shared values and directly thanks them and the politicians of both parties. But to continue to protect his country, he will continue to ask for help with sanctions, weapons, financial aid and justice – but emphasizes that he has never asked for US troops on the ground.
Zelenskiy also discussed his visit on Tuesday to the front line – in Hamat in the Donbass – which has been under siege since May.
The visit of the Ukrainian leader to Washington, which is expected to last only a few hours, amounts to an amazing moment 10 months since the Russian war in Ukraine began. It has poignant echoes of Churchill’s arrival in Washington, 81 years ago Thursday, days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That Christmas visit cemented the alliance that would win World War II and build the postwar democratic world. Zelensky’s visit marks his first trip outside his homeland since its invasion 300 days ago, and he arrived in Washington on Wednesday afternoon to set a course for the future of the war with a key Western ally.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Ukrainian leader met with Biden in the Oval Office, after which they held a joint press conference at the White House. The duo displayed a united front in their approach to the war during the press conference.
“I think that … we share the exact same vision, and that a free, independent, prosperous and secure Ukraine is the vision — we both want this war to end,” Biden told reporters in the East Room of the White House.
At the beginning of the press conference, Biden conveyed that he felt it was “particularly meaningful” to speak with Zelensky in person and “look into each other’s eyes.” The Ukrainian president’s leadership, Biden said, was an inspiration to the world.
“We understand in our bones that Ukraine’s struggle is part of something much bigger,” Biden continued.
Biden said Zelensky showed his “strong stance against aggression in the face of the imperial appetite of autocrats,” and said the U.S. stands with Ukraine in upholding “core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Both Biden and Zelensky addressed the Russians during the press conference, with the Ukrainian president repeatedly calling Russian forces “terrorists” and Biden stressing the importance of being “clear” about Russia’s actions.
“It is deliberately attacking critical infrastructure in Ukraine, destroying the system to provide heat and light (to Ukrainian people) during the coldest and darkest part of the year. Russia is using winter as a weapon, freezing people, starving people, cutting them off from each other,” Biden said. The war, Biden later claimed, “could end today if Putin had any dignity at all, did the right thing and just…retired. But it’s not going to happen.”
But the two leaders, it seems, still have different perspectives on their approach to pursuing peace with Russia.
At the beginning of the press conference, Biden said that Zelensky is open to pursuing a “just peace”. Later, when asked by a reporter to share his idea of a fair way to end the war, the Ukrainian leader responded: “For me, as president, a just peace is not a compromise on the sovereignty, freedom and territorial integrity of my country. , the compensation for all the damages caused by Russian aggression.” .
“There can be no just peace in a war forced upon us by these … inhumans, I would say,” he added.
The trip, which was secretly organized by American and Ukrainian officials over the past week, involves heavy risks. After arriving in Poland by train, Zelensky flew to Washington aboard a US military aircraft, US officials said. He arrived in the US shortly after noon at Joint Base Andrews, just outside the nation’s capital.
In the photos: Zelensky’s wartime visit to the USA
Zelensky arrived on the South Lawn shortly after 2:00 PM EST, eschewing a change into his now-familiar military green shirt. A military honor guard was standing on the White House driveway when his black vehicle pulled up toward the building.
“I understand that we have very important issues and we will discuss them, everything, so many challenges in Ukraine, in Europe, in the world, from energy to the situation on the battlefield,” Zelensky said in the Oval Office. “But first of all, really, all my appreciation is from my heart, from the heart of Ukrainians, all Ukrainians, from our people.”
The wartime visit, quickly arranged by U.S. and Ukrainian officials over the past 10 days, is intended to poignantly demonstrate America’s continued commitment to Ukraine at a time when Biden’s ability to maintain that support at home and abroad is being tested.
The visit came as the Biden administration announced it was sending nearly $2 billion in additional security aid to Ukraine, including a sophisticated new air defense system.
During the news conference, Biden told CNN’s Phil Mattingly that the missile system — known as the Patriot system — is defensive, not escalating. Zelensky said the system is “something that will strengthen our air defense significantly.”
“Every dollar of this investment for the U.S. is going to strengthen global security and I know that the American leadership will be strong and play an important role on the global scale,” Zelensky added. He also suggested that Ukraine would want more of the systems.
It was also an opportunity for Biden and top US officials to sound out Zelensky about how he sees the trajectory of the conflict, and offer their thoughts on what it will take to bring the war to an end.
“Together with our partners, we’re also going to impose costs on the Kremlin and support Ukraine in its pursuit of a just peace,” Biden said in the Oval Office, a reference to how Zelensky said he hoped to see the war end. “President Zelensky, the United States stands by the brave people of Ukraine.”
Zelensky, sitting in front of a roaring fireplace, offered Biden a Military Cross medal from a Ukrainian soldier serving at the front.
“He said, ‘Give it to a very brave president,'” Zelensky said.
“Undeserved but very much appreciated,” Biden replied when he received the medal, and asked if it would be possible to contact the Ukrainian soldier.
Biden first discussed the prospect of Zelensky visiting Washington during a phone call with the Ukrainian leader on Dec. 11, an administration official said. A week ago, an official invitation received by Zelensky was extended, launching joint consultations on the security parameters of the most dangerous and secret trip.
Zelensky, who the official said was “very eager” to visit the US, determined that these parameters met his needs, and the US began working on implementing them. The trip was finally approved on Sunday.
“We are working in lockstep with him and his team to make sure we can make this trip safely, both coming to the United States and returning. We will continue to support his travel requirements as best we can,” said John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council.
Zelensky traveled to Poland by train as part of his trip to the US on Wednesday. Video by TVN, the CNN affiliate in Poland, captured the moment Zelensky arrived by train in Przemyśl, near the Polish/Ukrainian border. Zelensky was then seen in a white 4×4 vehicle waiting to depart in a convoy.
Tight security has been enforced around Zelensky’s visit amid concerns that Russia wants to disable the Ukrainian president, a source close to the Ukrainian leader told CNN on Wednesday. Because of this ongoing threat, senior administration officials—as well as US embassy staff—were not briefed on the visit’s schedule.
According to the source, it was necessary to calculate the military risk to allow the president of Ukraine to make the short trip overseas without endangering the military situation. Timing also had to be worked out with the White House to assess availability for this to happen.
In weighing the visit, Zelensky suggested that he would not have wanted to travel had there not been a significant development in bilateral relations between Ukraine and the US. Zelensky saw the US decision to send Patriot missile defense systems to Ukraine as a significant change in relations between the two allies.
The new $1.8 billion package unveiled by Biden includes the Patriot surface-to-air missile system, which has been a long-standing request by Ukraine to repel Russian airstrikes. CNN was the first to report that the US is expected to send the Patriot systems to Ukraine.
Unlike smaller air defense systems, Patriot missile batteries need much larger crews, requiring dozens of personnel to operate them properly. Training for Patriot missile batteries usually takes several months, a process the United States will now carry out under pressure from near-daily airstrikes from Russia.
A senior administration official said U.S. forces will train Ukrainians to use the system in a third country. CNN previously reported that the training would take place at a U.S. military base in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
The system is widely considered to be one of the best long-range weapons capable of defending airspace against incoming ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as certain aircraft. Because of its long-range and high-altitude capability, it can shoot down Russian missiles and aircraft far from their intended targets inside Ukraine.
Russia has warned of unspecified “consequences” if the US supplies Ukraine with Patriot missiles, and sees the shipments as further US involvement in the war. However, the official was clear that Biden remains steadfast in keeping the United States out of direct conflict with Russia, despite the increased security assistance.
“The president was very clear that we are going to lean forward and be strong in our support for Ukraine on the military, economic, energy and humanitarian fronts, but we do not aspire to participate in a direct war with Russia. And nothing about this will change tomorrow,” the official said.