President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with President Joe Biden and addresses Congress in Washington DC as the war rages on

WASHINGTON– Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Washington on Wednesday for a summit with President Joe Biden and a speech to Congress to bolster support for his country and send a defiant message to its Russian invaders.

A US official confirmed that a US Air Force jet landed with the Ukrainian leader at Joint Base Andrews, just outside the capital. Prior to his arrival, Zelenskyy said on his Twitter account that the visit, his first known trip outside of Ukraine since the war began in February, was intended to boost “Ukraine’s resilience and defense capabilities” and strengthen cooperation with the United States to discuss.

The highly sensitive trip came after 10 months of a brutal war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides and devastated Ukrainian civilians. Shortly before his arrival, the US announced its largest single shipment of weapons to Ukraine, including Patriot surface-to-air missiles, and Congress planned to vote on a spending package that includes about $45 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine.

Zelenskyy headed abroad after making a daring and dangerous trip Tuesday to what he called the hottest spot on the war’s 1,300-kilometer frontline, the town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk province. He praised the Ukrainian troops for their “courage, resilience and strength” as artillery pounded in the background.

Poland’s private broadcaster TVN24 said Zelenskyy entered Poland early on Wednesday on his way to Washington. The station showed footage of what appeared to be Zelenskyy arriving at a train station and being escorted to a motorcade. According to TVN24, the video, which was partially blurred for security reasons, was shot in Przemysl, a Polish border town that was the arrival point for many war refugees. US officials commented on Zelenskyy’s travel plans, citing security concerns.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that the visit “will underscore the United States’ unwavering commitment to assisting Ukraine for as long as is needed, including by providing economic, humanitarian and military assistance.”

Zelenskyy was scheduled to meet with Biden at the White House in the afternoon and then join Biden for a press conference in the East Room. The address to Congress was expected in the evening.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in inviting Zelenskyy to address lawmakers, said “the fight for Ukraine is the fight for democracy itself” and they looked forward to “carrying your inspirational message of unity, resilience and… determination to hear.”

US and Ukrainian officials have made it clear that they do not see an immediate solution to the war and are preparing to continue fighting for some time. The latest infusion of US funds would be the largest yet – and exceed Biden’s $37 billion demand.

Biden has reiterated that while the US will arm and train Ukraine, American forces will not be directly involved in the war.

Biden and Zelenskyy first discussed the idea of ​​a visit during a phone call Dec. 11, followed by a formal invitation three days later, according to a senior US government official. Zelenskyy accepted the invitation Friday and it was confirmed Sunday when the White House began coordinating with Pelosi, D-Calif., to arrange the congressional address.

The White House consulted with Zelenskyy on security, including the risk of Russian action, while Zelenskyy was briefly out of the country, said the official, who declined to detail the measures taken to protect the Ukrainian leader. Officials briefed reporters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the visit.

The $1.85 billion US military aid package will include for the first time a Patriot missile battery and precision-guided bombs for its warplanes, US officials said. It represents an extension of the breed of advanced weapons designed to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses against the increasing barrage of Russian missiles.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the delivery of the advanced surface-to-air missile system was seen as a provocative move and that the system and any crew accompanying it were a legitimate target for the Moscow military.

It was unclear when the Patriot battery would arrive at the front lines in Ukraine, given the need for US troops to train Ukrainian forces. The training can last several weeks and will probably take place in Germany.

The visit comes at an important time as the White House braces for more opposition when Republicans take control of the House in January and take a closer look at aid to Ukraine. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California said his party would not issue a “blank check” for Ukraine.

Biden and Zelenskyy have spoken frequently on the phone, with Biden praising Ukraine for standing firm against the Russians and Zelenskyy thanking the US President for his support.

The one exception to those heartfelt calls came in June, shortly after Biden told Zelenskyy that an additional $1 billion package would go to Ukraine. Zelenskyy insisted on ticking the extra help he felt Ukraine needed.

This angered Biden, who underscored the generosity of the American people to Zelenskyy. But the brief moment of suspense has not caused lasting difficulties to discuss the private conversations, according to officials familiar with the episode, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer opened the chamber’s session by saying that passing the aid package and confirming the new US Ambassador to Russia, Lynne M. Tracy, would send a strong signal that Americans “clearly “ stand by Ukraine. Tracy was later confirmed by a vote of 93-2.

Schumer, DN.Y., said Zelenskyy comes not only as President, but as “an ambassador of freedom itself.”

Top Senate Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, “The most fundamental reasons for continuing to help Ukraine demote and defeat the Russian invaders are cold, hard, practical American interests.” He said, ” defeating Russian aggression will help prevent further security crises in Europe”.

Russia’s invasion, which began on February 24, has lost momentum. The illegally annexed provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhia remain fiercely contested.

Amid the stalemate in the east, Moscow has used missiles and drones to attack Ukraine’s power supply, hoping to leave people without power as freezing weather sets in.

In a video released by his office from Bakhmut’s visit, Zelenskyy was presented with a Ukrainian flag and indicated that he would hand it over to US leaders.

“The guys gave 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 strengthening its army. Our people are braver and need stronger weapons. We’re going to take it from the boys to Congress, to the President of the United States. We are grateful for their support, but it is not enough. It’s a hint – it’s not enough.”

Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Kyiv-based think tank Penta Center, said Zelenskyy’s visit to the US “should determine the course of the war – Zelenskyy has dared to leave Ukraine for the first time and expects to be able to keep it going, possibly even.” Strengthen U.S. military and economic aid.”

Hanna Danylovych, 43, who lives in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and works as a scientist, welcomed the prospect of additional military assets, saying: “There is a great desire and dream to speed up the removal of Russian evil from our country.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his country’s military leaders on Wednesday that Russia will achieve its stated goals in Ukraine and use the combat experience to strengthen its military. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia’s military needs to be increased from the current 1 million to 1.5 million in view of the fighting in Ukraine.

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Castillo reported from Kyiv, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Tara Copp and Aamer Madhani in Washington, Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv and Andrew Katell in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Laura Coffey

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