By Steve Holland and Pavel Polityuk
WASHINGTON/KYIV (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy arrived in Washington on Wednesday to meet with President Joe Biden, speak to Congress and seek out “guns, guns and more guns” in his first foreign trip since Russia invaded Ukraine 300 days ago.
Zelenskiy said ahead of his visit that it was intended to bolster Ukraine’s “resilience and defense capabilities” amid repeated Russian missile and drone strikes on the country’s energy and water supplies in the dead of winter.
His political adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said the visit showed the high degree of trust between the two countries and gave him an opportunity to explain what weapons Kiev needs.
“This finally puts an end to attempts by the Russian side … to demonstrate an allegedly growing cooling in our bilateral relations,” Podolyak told RockedBuzz via Reuters.
“This, of course, is not even close. The United States is unequivocally behind Ukraine.”
Ahead of Zelenskiy’s arrival, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the United States would provide another $1.85 billion in military aid to Ukraine, including a Patriot air defense system to help it fend off Russian missile barrages.
“…Guns, guns and more guns. It’s important to personally explain why we need certain types of guns,” Podolyak said. “In particular, armored vehicles, the latest missile defense systems and long-range missiles.”
Zelenskiy made a point of staying close to his people throughout the war, with daring battlefront journeys, countless calls with world leaders, and videolinked speeches to parliaments and international institutions.
In Washington, he will meet Biden at the White House at 2:30 p.m. (1930 GMT), attend a joint press conference with the US president, and then travel to Capitol Hill to address a joint session of the state Senate and House of Representatives United .
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC diplomacy would be discussed with Zelenskiy, but the Ukrainian leader would not be pressured for peace talks.
Kirby said Washington sees no sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin is willing to engage in appeasement.
“Clearly we will make sure that President Zelenskiy, when he leaves this country, knows that he will leave with the full support of the United States in the future,” Kirby told MSNBC in a separate interview.
TROUBLESHOOTING, PUTIN SAYS TO ARMY
Putin was defiant at an end-of-year meeting of top defense chiefs on Wednesday, saying Russian forces are fighting like heroes in Ukraine, will be equipped with modern weapons and will achieve all of Moscow’s goals.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 with the goal of capturing the capital Kiev within days, a goal that quickly proved out of reach.
Moscow then concentrated on advancing along the eastern and southern fronts, but has suffered a string of battlefield defeats since the summer – amid widespread reports of disorganisation, poor training and shoddy equipment – and Putin admitted on Tuesday that conditions in Russian-controlled areas they were “highly complicated”.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Putin said there were no financial limits to what the government would provide in terms of equipment and hardware, but the military needed to learn and solve the problems it had encountered in Ukraine.
He has backed a plan by his defense minister to increase the size of the armed forces by more than 30 percent to 1.5 million fighters. A call-up of 300,000 reservists in September was beset with problems, with many men physically unfit or too old and lacking basic equipment.
Putin also said he still considers Ukrainians – who have been killed by the tens of thousands, forced to flee by the millions and have seen entire cities and towns destroyed – a “brotherly” people.
He blamed the war on “third countries (seeking) the disintegration of the Russian world”, revisiting a familiar theme. The West dismissed this as nonsense, calling Russia’s actions in Ukraine imperial-style land theft.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday it saw no chance for peace talks with Kiev. In a call with reporters, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said continued Western arms supplies to Ukraine would lead to a “deepening” of the conflict.
ZELENSKIY COMPARISON TO CHURCHILL
The Biden administration has provided approximately $20 billion in military assistance to Ukraine, including artillery ammunition, ammunition for NASAMS air defense systems and High Mobility Artillery Missile Systems (HIMARS).
Zelenskiy has repeatedly called on the West to supply more advanced weapons, from modern tanks to missile defense systems.
US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer compared Zelenskiy’s research to Britain’s World War II leader Winston Churchill, who asked the United States for help against Nazi Germany.
“Where Winston Churchill stood generations ago, President Zelenskiy also stands not only as president, but also as an ambassador of freedom itself,” the top Democrat said in the Senate. “Now is not the time… to take one foot off the accelerator when it comes to helping Ukraine.”
On Tuesday, Zelenskiy made a surprise trip to Bakhmut, a city on the Eastern Front destroyed by months of Russian bombing. He handed out medals to the soldiers and stressed the importance of Bakhmut’s defense against Russia’s stuttering but persistent attempts to capture the city.
In his nightly speech video, Zelenskiy called it a trip to “Bakhmut Fortress” in Donetsk, a province Russia said it annexed in September in a move rejected by most countries as an illegal occupation.
Video footage released on Ukrinform TV, part of Ukraine’s state news agency, showed servicemen in Bakhmut handing Zelenskiy a Ukrainian flag with their signatures on it.
“We will deliver it to Congress and the president of the United States from the boys,” Zelenskiy said in the video. “We are grateful for the support. But it’s not enough.”
(Reporting by the RockedBuzz via Reuters offices; Writing by Nick Macfie and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Alex Richardson)