Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelenskyy received a hero’s welcome from US lawmakers during a provocative wartime visit to the nation’s capital on Wednesday, thanking “every American” for helping fund the war effort with money that “is not charity,” but an “investment” in global security and democracy.
In his remarks to lawmakers, Zelenskyy recalled U.S. victories in the Battle of the Bulge, a turning point against Nazi Germany in World War II, and the Revolutionary War Battle of Saratoga, an American victory that helped gain the France’s aid for the independence of the United States.
The Ukrainian leader predicted that next year would be a “turning point” in the conflict, “when Ukrainian courage and American determination will have to secure the future of our common freedom, the freedom of people who stand up for their values.”
The whirlwind stop in Washington – his first known trip out of his country since the invasion of Russia in February – was intended to reinvigorate support for his country in the United States and around the world at a time when there are fears the allies are getting tired of the costly war and its disruption of global food and energy supplies.
Zelenskyy told members of Congress that the tens of billions of dollars in U.S. military and economic assistance provided over the past year have been vital to Ukraine’s efforts to repel Russia and he called for even more in the future. .
“Your money isn’t charity,” she tried to reassure both those in the room and those watching at home. “It is an investment in global security and democracy that we manage in the most responsible way.”
Shortly before his arrival, the US announced a new $1.8 billion (€1.69 billion) military aid package, including, for the first time, Patriot surface-to-air missiles.
Congress plans to vote this week on a new spending package that includes about $45 billion in additional emergency aid to Ukraine.
The speech to Congress came after President Joe Biden hosted Zelenskyy in the Oval Office for strategic consultations, saying the US and Ukraine would maintain their ‘united defense’ as Russia embarks on a ‘brutal assault on Ukraine’s right to exist’ as a nation”. Biden pledged to help bring about a “just peace”.
Zelenskyy told Biden he wished he could visit sooner, and his visit now shows that “the situation is under control thanks to your support.”
Zelensky receives the US flag
The highly sensitive trip came after 10 months of a brutal war that has seen tens of thousands of casualties on both sides and devastation for Ukrainian civilians.
The visit had long been sought by both sides, but the right conditions have only formed in the past 10 days, US officials said, after high-level discussions about the safety of both Zelenskyy and his people while he was out of Ukraine .
Zelenskyy spent less than 10 hours in Washington before starting the journey back to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy received thunderous applause from members of Congress and presented lawmakers with a Ukrainian flag autographed by front-line troops in Bakhmut in Ukraine’s disputed Donetsk province.
The flag was flown behind him on the podium by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Vice Speaker Kamala Harris. Pelosi, in turn, presented Zelensky with an American flag that he had flown over the Capitol that day, and Zelensky waved it up and down as he left the chamber.
Declaring in his speech that Ukraine “will never surrender,” Zelenskyy warned that the conflict was greater than just the fate of his nation: that democracy around the world was being tested.
“This battle cannot be ignored, hoping that the ocean or something else will provide protection,” he said, speaking in English for what he called a “speech to the Americans.”
Earlier, in a joint press conference with Biden, Zelenskyy was pressed on how Ukraine would seek to end the conflict. He dismissed Biden’s idea of finding a “just peace,” saying, “For me as president, ‘just peace’ doesn’t mean compromise.”
He said the war would end once Ukraine’s sovereignty, freedom and territorial integrity were restored and Russia repaid Ukraine for all damages inflicted by its forces.
“There can be no ‘just peace’ in the war that has been forced upon us,” he added.
Biden, for his part, said Russia “is trying to use winter as a weapon, but the Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world.” During the press conference, you said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has “no intention of stopping this cruel war”.
The two leaders appeared to share a warm rapport, laughing at each other’s comments and patting each other on the back during the visit, though Zelenskyy has made clear he will continue to lobby Biden and other Western leaders for ever-increasing support.
He said that after the Patriot system is up and running, “we will send another signal to President Biden that we would like to have more Patriots.”
“We are at war,” Zelenskyy added with a smile, while Biden chuckled at the direct request. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
Biden told Zelenskyy it was “important for the American people and the world to hear directly from you, Mr. President, about Ukraine’s struggle and the need to continue to stand together through 2023.”
Secret flight from Poland
Zelenskyy had headed to Washington after making a daring and perilous journey Tuesday to what he called the hottest spot on the war’s 1,300-kilometer front line, the city of Bakhmut.
Poland’s private broadcaster, TVN24, said Zelenskyy entered Poland early Wednesday on his way to Washington.
The station showed footage of what appeared to be Zelenskyy arriving at a train station and being escorted in a motorcade of American SUVs.
TVN24 said the video, partially obfuscated for security reasons, was shot in Przemysl, a Polish border town that has been the arrival point for many refugees fleeing the war.
Officials, citing security concerns, have been cautious about Zelenskyy’s travel plans, but a US official confirmed that Zelenskyy arrived on a US Air Force jet that landed at Joint Base Andrews, just outside the capital, from the Polish city of Rzeszow.
Biden told Zelenskyy, who wore a military green hoodie and boots, that “it’s an honor to be by your side.”
US and Ukrainian officials have made it clear they do not anticipate an imminent resolution to the war and are preparing to continue the fighting for some time.
Biden reiterated that while the United States will arm and train Ukraine, American forces will not be directly engaged in the war.
The visit comes at an important time, with the White House preparing for more resistance when Republicans take control of the House in January and give more control over aid to Ukraine.
GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California said his party would not sign a “blank check” for Ukraine.
Zelenskyy seemed well aware of political divisions in the United States over sustained overseas spending and called on House and Senate lawmakers to ensure that American leadership remains “bicameral and bipartisan.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer opened the House session on Wednesday 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 are “unequivocally” with Ukraine. Tracy was confirmed later in a vote of 93-2.
Top Senate 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 that “defeating Russia’s aggression will help prevent further security crises in Europe.”
The full-scale invasion of Russia that began on February 24 has lost momentum in recent weeks. The illegally annexed provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia remain fiercely contested.
With fighting in the east at a stalemate, the Kremlin has used missiles and drones to attack Ukraine’s electrical equipment, hoping to leave people without electricity as the frost sets in.