- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress in a moving Wednesday speech.
- His visit to the US is his first international trip since Russia invaded in February.
- “Against all odds and doom and gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn’t fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking, he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a historic visit to Washington, DC, on Wednesday, in his first international trip since Russia launched an unprovoked invasion of his country in late February.
News of Zelenskyy’s trip to Washington, a risky journey involving significant security concerns, broke on Tuesday. Zelenskyy’s visit, which included a meeting and press conference with President Joe Biden, came a day after the Ukrainian president met with troops on the frontline in a city that Russia has tried and failed to capture for months.
“It’s good to have you back,” Biden said to Zelenskyy at the White House, welcoming the Ukrainian leader for the first time since September 2021.
“It’s an honor to be by your side in the united defense against what is a brutal, brutal war that is being waged by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Biden said to his Ukrainian counterpart.
“The Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world,” Biden added. “I mean that sincerely — not just inspire us, but inspire the world with their courage.”
—Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 21, 2022
Zelensky delivered an emotional address to Congress on Wednesday evening, thanking US politicians for their prior assistance and aid, while invoking his country’s need for further military and financial help.
“Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way,” he said.
Entering the House chamber to a rare minutes-long standing ovation from both sides of the aisle, Zelenskyy compared Ukrainians’ ongoing defiance to the Battle of the Bulge, which saw American troops and the Allied line withstand the final German offensive in World War II amid brutal winter conditions.
Some right-wing lawmakers repeatedly remained seated during abrupt standing ovations and bursts of applause, reporters in the room noted.
He railed against “Russian tyranny” and presented confidence in Ukraine’s ability to withstand further attacks.
“Against all odds and doom and gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn’t fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking, he said.
“The Ukrainian people will win too, absolutely,” Zelenskyy added.
Zelenskyy’s speech came after the Ukrainian president joined Biden for a joint press conference on Wednesday afternoon, during which the latter reaffirmed ongoing support to Ukraine from the US.
The Ukrainian president told reporters that he was grateful for US assistance and emphasized that the two countries are fighting for “common victory against this tyranny.”
“I really want win together,” he said, before correcting himself. “Not ‘want.’ Sorry. I’m sure.”
The war in Ukraine has been disastrous for the Russian military
Russia is estimated to have suffered roughly 100,000 casualties so far. Russian forces have also been losing ground in the face of a Ukrainian counteroffensive, including in Ukrainian territories that Putin illegally annexed in September.
Putin on Tuesday made a rare admission that the war is not going well, pointing to an “extremely difficult” situation in the occupied territories. Last month, Russian forces treated from Kherson — the first major city Russia captured after invading — in one of the most humiliating moments in the war for Moscow to date.
But Ukraine has also sustained serious losses on myriad levels, including personnel and vital infrastructure. Kyiv has been heavily reliant on Western military aid throughout the war, and Zelenskyy continues to ask for more assistance.
Zelenskyy’s visit came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $1.85 billion in additional military assistance to Ukraine, which includes a Patriot missile battery for the first time. Blinken in a statement said the Patriot system is “capable of bringing down cruise missiles, short range ballistic missiles, and aircraft at a significantly higher ceiling than previously provided air defense systems.” For months, Ukraine has been urging Western powers to provide it with more advanced weaponry such as the Patriot air defense system.
Zelenskyy’s visit comes as US lawmakers discuss sending more aid to Ukraine
The Ukrainian leader’s trip to Washington also came as lawmakers discuss a massive federal government spending bill that includes roughly $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine.
Top Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have offered full-throated support to providing more assistance to Ukraine. But a number of congressional Republicans in recent months have expressed opposition to the levels of aid provided to Kyiv by the US, citing economic concerns.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky assailed Senate GOP leaders for agreeing to the latest tranche of Ukraine aid already baked into the year-end spending deal.
“We don’t really have any money to send Ukraine. We have to borrow it from China,” Paul said of his concerns about deficit spending.
As for Zelenskyy, Paul took a no-hard-feelings approach to shutting off any additional aid. “He’s battling against an aggressive neighbor and we wish him luck,” Paul told Insider. “But my obligation is to try to preserve the national security of this country. And I think giving money away that we don’t have is not a good way to ensure our national security.”
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri didn’t pan Zelenskyy or even Senate Democrats for pursuing whatever resources they can on the Ukraine front. Instead he trained his fire at Senate GOP leaders.
“I think the Senate Republicans have boosted it beyond what the White House asked for,” Hawley said of his leadership’s willingness to keep sending money overseas.
He also mused about how the high-profile visit, meant to show strength between the two nations, could actually expose the US’s poor organizational skills.
“It would be ironic, wouldn’t it, if we had a government shutdown because we had to stop for a joint session of Congress,” Hawley said of the Zelenskyy’s fly-in possibly upending the sprint to try and sew up federal budgeting for the year.
As lawmakers in Washington debate over aid to Kyiv, it’s remains unlikely that negotiations to end the war in Ukraine will occur in the foreseeable future. Russia has demanded that its authority over the territories Putin illegally annexed be recognized before talks can occur, even though Russian forces do not fully occupy or control these regions. Ukraine has also been clear that it will not agree to any peace deal that would see it cede territory to Russia. Meanwhile, the fighting rages on in Ukraine, as Putin continues to make nuclear threats and Russia repeatedly targets civilian areas.