Zelensky will meet with Biden in Washington and address Congress, officials say
Zelensky will meet with Biden in Washington and address Congress, officials say
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WASHINGTON — President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine will meet with President Biden at the White House on Wednesday and later deliver a prime-time address before a joint session of Congress, a bold foreign trip meant to reaffirm American support for his country, officials at the White House late Tuesday night.
“300 days ago, Russia launched a brutal attack on Ukraine,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said in a statement confirming Mr. Zelenskyj’s trip to Washington. “The visit will underscore the United States’ unwavering commitment to assisting Ukraine for as long as needed, including through the provision of economic, humanitarian and military assistance.”
Senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity due to concerns over Mr Zelenskyy’s safety, said the risks involved in such a visit were high as the wartime leader left his country for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine in February . and that the planning of his arrival had been carried out in the strictest secrecy.
Mr. Zelensky will arrive in the United States nearly 10 months after President Vladimir V. Putin ordered Russian troops into Ukraine and as Congress considers approving nearly $50 billion in aid to Ukraine’s armed forces to help in the fight against Russia next year. That would bring the total amount of American aid to more than $100 billion.
“He’s a national and global hero — I look forward to hearing from him,” Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said Tuesday after hearing about Mr. Zelensky’s visit.
The Ukrainian president’s trip comes as Russia’s attack heads for a second, brutal year. Russia’s hopes of a quick defeat of Ukraine have been dashed, but have given way to a series of grueling and devastating attacks on civilians that have left major cities without heating or electricity in the bitter cold of Ukraine’s winter.
During his meeting with Mr. Biden at the White House, Mr. Zelensky will accept America’s latest pledge of military aid: an advanced Patriot missile battery that senior government officials said would provide Ukraine with far better defenses against airstrikes from Russia’s missiles and drones. The missile battery will be part of a nearly $2 billion security assistance package that also includes other support for Ukraine’s air defenses.
White House officials said the US President’s announcement of the new security package – with Mr Zelenskyy at his side – was meant to send a strong message to Mr Putin and other world leaders, along with people in Ukraine and America that Mr. Biden would not waver in his efforts to help Ukraine defeat its Russian invaders.
In her statement on Tuesday evening, Ms Jean-Pierre said the meeting of the two leaders will “underscore the United States’ enduring commitment to Ukraine” and is part of an ongoing effort by Mr Biden to “rally the world around the… To support the people of Ukraine while defending their sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
A senior government official said Mr Biden would not come to Wednesday’s meeting “with a message to urge, goad or nudge Zelensky in any way” to secure a diplomatic end to the war with Russia Find. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the trip had not been officially announced, said Russia had given no indication that it was ready to begin good faith talks to end the war.
But the official also said Mr Biden would not allow the United States to be drawn into an active war with Russia on Ukraine’s behalf, a promise the president made before Russian forces invaded Ukraine in late February.
After meeting Mr. Biden and members of his national security team, Mr. Zelensky is expected to hold a press conference at the White House, officials said. He will then travel to Capitol Hill for what is likely to be an electrifying performance before a joint session of Congress as Democratic control of the House of Representatives – and the reign of California Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker – nears its end.
While Mr. Biden has vowed to continue his support “as long as necessary,” he is facing some opposition in Congress, where Republicans are poised to take control of the House on Jan. 3. Just hours before news of Mr. Zelensky’s visit to the bankruptcy, Republican leaders in that chamber had ordered ordinary lawmakers to oppose a roughly $1.7 trillion spending bill that includes aid to Ukraine.
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Some Republicans in the House of Representatives have repeatedly spoken out against previous packages that have sent billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, noting that the money is being lavishly or better spent in the United States. On Tuesday, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, a far-right Republican, tweeted scoffing at the release of the new aid.
Others indicated late Tuesday that their support for Ukraine’s aid would be outweighed by their opposition to the spending measure, which must be passed by Friday to avoid a government shutdown. North Dakota Republican Senator Kevin Cramer said voting against the spending bill “doesn’t mean we don’t support Ukraine.”
“Our first obligation is to the people we work for, not the people he works for,” he said of Mr. Zelensky.
The spending bill, including funding for Ukraine, is expected to be passed by Congress by the end of the week, although votes for final passage are not yet scheduled.
Mr. Zelensky’s trip to the United States was set in motion nine days ago during a phone call between the two leaders, a senior administration official said. The White House officially invited Mr. Zelenskyy a week ago, and serious plans for a speech before Congress began on Sunday when the government of Ukraine confirmed his intention to travel to the United States.
In the first days and weeks of the full-scale Russian invasion, a Russian attack aimed at taking advantage of the leader’s absence might have confused the Ukrainian military. But 10 months into the war, no prominent military analyst has recently questioned Ukraine’s leadership and control of the military.
However, Russia’s military and political leadership has an arsenal of missiles regularly fired at Ukraine, and a barrage planned for a presidential trip abroad would be within Russia’s capabilities. Such a salvo could serve as a distraction for Mr. Zelensky or a signal to Ukrainians or American officials that Russia has options to respond to the deepening of US-Ukrainian relations.
Before news of his visit was first reported by Punchbowl News Tuesday night, there were indications that an unusual session of Congress was in the works. Ms Pelosi had earlier in the day sent a letter to all House lawmakers, asking them to attend Wednesday night’s session in person, despite having the opportunity to vote remotely.
“We are concluding a very special session of the 117th Congress with legislation that will advance the American people and support our democracy. Please be present on Wednesday night for a very special focus on democracy,” Ms Pelosi wrote.
Mr Zelensky himself did not confirm his trip to the United States in a surprise visit to the stricken city of Bakhmut on Tuesday. Mr. Zelensky received a flag from Ukrainian soldiers who asked him to present it to Congress. He promised to give it to Mr. Biden, according to Ukrainian media who joined him on the trip.
While his office had no official comment on an upcoming trip, the moment was caught on camera. However, it was not clear that Mr. Zelensky was actually preparing to leave the country for the first time since the war began.
When news of the possible visit broke Tuesday, several senators conceded that it would be preferable for the Senate to pass the spending measure — including security aid to Ukraine — before Mr Zelenskyy addresses Congress.
“That would be a best-case scenario,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican. The spending bill passed a procedural hurdle Tuesday by a stunning 70-25 vote.
Some lawmakers admitted they learned of the possible visit late Tuesday, but most lawmakers and advisers appeared stunned by the news. While several senior lawmakers, including Ms Pelosi and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, have made trips to Ukraine, Mr Zelensky has not left since the war began. He addressed Congress virtually earlier this year.
“For President Zelensky to make his first trip outside of the country since the beginning of the war to address us, thank us and challenge us to continue supporting the Ukrainian people is, in my opinion, the perfect end to two years of… President Biden has had some groundbreaking accomplishments,” said Sen. Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, who called Mr. Biden’s success in recruiting NATO and European allies to fight Ukraine as the greatest international achievement of the year.
Reporting was provided by Carl Hulse and Annie Karni from Washington, Andrew E. Kramer from Kyiv and Marc Santora from Warsaw.