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Aid to Ukraine is an ‘investment in democracy’, Zelensky tells US Congress on visit to Washington

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, December 21, 2022. © Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Congress on Wednesday in his first visit to Washington since Russia’s invasion. Zelensky said US assistance for Ukraine is not charity but rather an investment in democracy and security. Earlier, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the United States would provide another $1.85 billion in military aid for Ukraine including highly advanced Patriot air defense system to help it ward off barrages of Russian missiles.


Ukraine is ‘alive and kicking’, Zelensky tells Congress

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a joint meeting of the US Congress on Wednesday, aiming to persuade Republican lawmakers to continue to fund his country’s defense against Russia.

“It is a great honor for me to be at the US Congress and speak to you and all Americans. against all doom and gloom scenarios, Ukraine did not fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking,” said Zelensky, who received a standing ovation when he walked into the chamber.

“We defeated Russia in the battle for the minds of the world,” he said. Three members held up a large Ukrainian flag during the ovation.

“Your money is not charity. It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way,” Zelensky added.

Following a meeting at the White House with Democratic President Joe Biden, Zelensky’s speech needed to resonate with a bipartisan audience of US lawmakers, including House of Representatives Republicans, who have voiced increasing skepticism about continuing to send tens of billions of dollars to Ukraine.


Zelensky wartime address to Congress echoes Winston Churchill

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the US Congress as a wartime leader appealing for American support, as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill did more than 80 years before.

Zelensky’s visit to Washington –⁠ much like Churchill’s in December 1941 –⁠ came with his country under relentless attack and international aid essential to its ability to fight on.

“Ukraine holds its lines and will never surrender,” Zelensky told Congress, echoing one of Churchill’s most famous phrases and earning a standing ovation.

Zelensky earlier this year channeled Churchill in a video address to Britain’s House of Commons, pledging to “fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.”

 Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among US politicians drawing parallels to Churchill, saying Zelensky was leading his country with “Churchillian courage and resolve.”

 “Our message now must be the same from all quarters as it was then: We are with you,” she said.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and US Vice President Kamala Harris hold a Ukrainian flag presented by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, given to him by defenders of Bakhmut, during a joint meeting of US Congress in Washington, December 21, 2022. © Michael McCoy, Reuters

Volodymyr Zelensky at joint news conference with Joe Biden: Peace in Ukraine means ‘no compromises’

A “just peace” ending Russia’s war in Ukraine means making no compromises on the country’s territorial integrity, President Zelensky said through a translator at a news conference alongside President Joe Biden.

“For me as a president, ‘just peace’ is no compromises as to the sovereignty, freedom and territorial integrity of my country; the payback for all the damages inflicted by Russian aggression.”

With Zelensky standing at his side, Biden said that when Zelensky is ready to negotiate a settlement with Moscow, he will “be able to succeed as well because he would have won on the battlefield.”

Biden announced a new $1.85 billion security assistance package for Ukraine that will include a Patriot air defense battery. 

Zelensky said the US promise to provide the Patriot surface-to-air missile defense system was an important step in creating an effective air shield.

“This is the only way that we can deprive the terrorist state of its main instrument of terror – the possibility to hit our cities, our energy,” Zelensky said.



Biden: ‘We’re going to continue to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself’

Zelensky, wearing brown military fatigues rather than a suit, was driven to the White House where Biden, joined by his wife Jill, put his arm around his shoulder before escorting him past doors where guards held the US and Ukrainian flags.

“We’re going to continue to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, particularly air defense,” Biden told Zelensky, who thanked the US leader “for your big support.”

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

Ukraine’s president in USA

America welcomes you, Mr. President. pic.twitter.com/emqWCAYaTv

— President Biden (@POTUS) December 21, 2022

The highly sensitive trip was taking place after 10 months of a brutal war that has seen tens of thousands of casualties on both sides and devastation for Ukrainian civilians. Just before his arrival, the US announced its largest single delivery of arms to Ukraine, including Patriot surface-to-air missiles, and Congress planned to vote on a spending package that includes about $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine.

Zelensky headed abroad after making a daring and dangerous trip Tuesday to what he called the hottest spot on the 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) front line of the war, the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk province. He praised Ukrainian troops for their “courage, resilience and strength” as artillery boomed in the background.

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



White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that the visit “will underscore the United States’ steadfast commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes, including through the provision of economic, humanitarian, and military assistance.”

Details of Zelensky’s US visit 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in her invitation to Zelensky to speak to lawmakers, said “the fight for Ukraine is the fight for democracy itself” and that they were looking forward to “hearing your inspiring message of unity, resilience and determination.”

US and Ukrainian officials have made clear they do not envision an imminent resolution to the war and are preparing for fighting to continue for some time. The latest infusion of US money would be the biggest yet –⁠ and exceed Biden’s $37 billion request.

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

Biden and Zelensky first discussed the idea of a visit during a telephone call on December 11, with a formal invitation following three days later, according to a senior US administration official. Zelensky accepted the invitation on Friday and it was confirmed on Sunday, when the White House began coordinating with Senator Pelosi to arrange the congressional address.

The White House consulted with Zelensky on security, including the risk of Russian action while Zelensky was briefly out of the country, said the official, who declined to detail the measures taken to safeguard the Ukrainian leader. The official briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity because of 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 fighter jets, US officials said. It represents an expansion in the kinds of advanced weaponry intended to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses against what has been an increasing barrage of Russian missiles.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said the delivery of the advanced surface-to-air missile system would be considered a provocative step and that the system and any crews accompanying it would be a legitimate target for Moscow’s military.

Zelensky presents Biden with medal from Ukrainian soldier

📹 Zelensky gave personal merits to Biden from a Ukrainian soldier stationed at the front and a Ukrainian captain operating on the HIMARS battery pic.twitter.com/qObjtidguP

— KyivPost (@KyivPost) December 21, 2022

It was unclear when the Patriot battery would arrive on the front lines in Ukraine, given that US troops will have to train Ukrainian forces. The training could take several weeks and is expected to be done in Germany. 

Pivotal moment 

The visit comes at an important moment, with the White House bracing for greater resistance when Republicans take control of the House in January and give more scrutiny to aid for Ukraine. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California has said his party will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine.

Biden and Zelensky frequently have talked by phone, with Biden praising Ukraine for remaining steadfast against the Russians and Zelensky thanking the US president for support.

The one exception to those warm calls came in June, soon after Biden notified Zelensky that an additional $1 billion package was headed to Ukraine. Zelensky didn’t miss a beat in ticking off the additional assistance he said Ukraine needed. 

That irked Biden, who underscored to Zelensky the American people’s generosity. But the brief moment of tension hasn’t caused any lasting difficulty, according to officials familiar with the episode who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversations.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer opened the chamber’s session by saying that passage of the aid package and confirmation of the new US ambassador to Russia, Lynne M. Tracy, would send a strong signal that Americans stand “unequivocally” with Ukraine.

Schumer, D-N.Y., said Zelensky arrives not only as a president but an “ambassador to freedom itself.”

A photo distributed by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Service shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and a US Congressional delegation led by Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attending a meeting in Kyiv on Saturday, May 14, 2022. © EFE/EPA/SERVICIO DE PRENSA DE LA PRESIDENCIA

The Senate’s top Republican, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, said “the most basic reasons for continuing to help Ukraine degrade and defeat the Russian invaders are cold, hard, practical American interests.” He said “defeating Russia’s 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 Zaporizhzhia remain fiercely contested. 

With the fighting in the east at a stalemate, Moscow has used missiles and drones to attack Ukraine’s power equipment, hoping to leave people without electricity as freezing weather sets in.

In a video released by his office from the Bakhmut visit, Zelensky was handed a Ukrainian flag and alluded to delivering it to US leaders.

“The guys handed over our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures for us to pass on,” Zelensky said in the video. “We are not in an easy situation. The enemy is increasing its army. 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.”

Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Kyiv-based Penta Center think tank, said Zelensky’s visit to the US “should determine the course of the war – Zelensky for the first time dared to leave Ukraine and is counting on being able to maintain, and possibly even strengthen, US military and economic assistance.”

Hanna Danylovych, 43, who lives in Kyiv and works as a scientist, welcomed the prospect of additional military supplies, saying “there is a great desire and dream to speed up the removal of Russian evil from our land.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday told his country’s military leaders that Russia will achieve its stated goals in Ukraine and use the combat experience to strengthen its military. His defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, said Russia’s military must be expanded from the current 1 million to 1.5 million amid the fighting in Ukraine.

(France 24 with AFP, AP)

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