WASHINGTON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will meet with President Joe Biden and address Congress Wednesday in his first trip outside his country since Russia began its violent invasion of Ukraine in February.
Biden invited Zelenskyy to Washington to reinforce the U.S. “stands with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” according to a senior Biden administration official who discussed the trip on the condition of anonymity.
During their meeting, Biden will commit $2 billion in additional U.S. security assistance to send Patriot antimissile batteries to Ukraine amid the bombardment of cities by Russian missiles and drones.
Zelenskyy’s joint address to Congress, set for later in the evening, comes as lawmakers prepare to vote on an additional $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine. The U.S. has provided about $68 billion in military, economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine since violence between it and Russia renewed.
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Zelenskyy’s visit will mark the 300th day since Russia invaded Ukraine. In a letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested lawmakers should travel to Washington Wednesday for a “very special focus on democracy” that night.
“To have a complete and total hero in the Congress of the United States, fighting for democracy, leading people who are fighting for democracy, would bring honor to the Congress of the United States,” Pelosi told reporters.
Zelenskyy’s trip will be the first time the Ukrainian president has left his country since Russia’s attack. But it is not the first time he has visited the U.S. – he met with Biden in September 2021, posing in the Oval Office for photos with the president and discussing matters of state relevant to both nations.
Biden and Zelenskyy discussed the upcoming visit during a Dec. 11 phone call, according to the official, and the White House formally extended the invitation last Wednesday. Zelenskyy accepted Sunday. The U.S. consulted with Zelenskyy on security parameters, the official said, and Zelenskyy signed off.
Biden and Zelenskyy will discuss “every element” of Russia’s war in Ukraine including “where the war goes from here,” the official said.
White House spokesman John Kirby, speaking at a briefing last week, said the Biden administration has “no expectation” that winter will quell fighting in the region.
“No indications, certainly no expectations, that by year’s end there will be an end of war,” Kirby said. “None of the indicators are pointing in that direction.”
Lawmakers are rushing to pass before Christmas a $1.7 trillion spending package that includes $45 billion for Ukraine, a boost from the $37 billion Biden had requested for the latest round of assistance. The increase comes amid concern that funding may be harder to pass next year when Republicans take control of the House.
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In a video released Tuesday by his office, Zelenskyy hinted at his trip to the U.S. as he was handed a Ukrainian flag while he was in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut,
“The guys handed over our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures for us to pass on,” Zelenskyy said in the video. “We are not in an easy situation. The enemy is increasing its army, and our people are braver and need more powerful weapons. We will pass it on from the boys to the Congress, to the President of the United States. We are grateful for their support, but it is not enough. It is a hint – it is not enough.”
The mobile Patriot missile system is one of the most advanced in the U.S. 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 aimed at power stations and other civilian targets. U.S. officials credit Ukraine’s ingenuity with older, Soviet-era air defense systems for denying Russia the ability to gain control of Ukrainian airspace.
Patriot batteries are in high demand around the world and require extensive training to operate.
Contributing: Associated Press