In daring trip to D.C., Zelensky expected to meet with Biden and address Congress

December 22, 2022

On Wednesday, December 21, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was expected to meet with President Biden at the White House on and later deliver a prime-time address to a joint session of Congress—a daring trip abroad intended to reaffirm American support for his country, White House officials announced late Tuesday night, according to a report by The New York Times.

“Three hundred days ago, Russia launched a brutal assault against Ukraine,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said in a statement confirming Zelensky’s trip to Washington. “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.”

Senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about Zelensky’s safety, said the risks involved in such a visit—with the wartime leader leaving his country for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine in February—were high, and that planning for his arrival had been conducted under intense secrecy.

Zelensky was scheduled to arrive in the United States nearly ten months after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops into Ukraine and as Congress considers approving nearly $50 billion in aid to help Ukraine’s forces battle Russia next year. That would bring the total amount of American aid to more than $100 billion.

“He’s a national and global hero — I’m delighted to be able to hear from him,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said Tuesday after hearing of Zelensky’s visit.

The Ukrainian president’s trip comes as Russia’s assault heads into a second, brutal year. Russia’s hopes for a quick defeat of Ukraine failed, but have given way to a series of grinding and devastating attacks on civilians that have left major cities without heat or electricity in the bitter cold of Ukraine’s winter.

During his meeting with Biden at the White House, Zelensky is set to accept the latest American pledge of military assistance: a highly sophisticated Patriot missile battery that senior administration officials said would provide Ukraine with far better defenses against air attacks from Russian missiles and drones. The missile battery will be part of a nearly $2 billion package of security assistance that also will include other support for Ukraine’s air defenses.

White House officials said the announcement of the new security package by the American president —with Zelensky by his side—was meant to send a powerful message to Putin and other world leaders, along with people in Ukraine and America, that Biden would not waver in his efforts to help Ukraine defeat its Russian aggressors.

In her statement Tuesday night, Jean-Pierre said the meeting of the two leaders would “underscore the United States’ enduring commitment to Ukraine” and was part of a continuing effort by Biden to rally “the world to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

A senior administration official said that Biden would not come to the meeting on Wednesday “with a message that is about pushing or prodding or poking Zelensky in any way” toward finding a diplomatic end to the war with Russia. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the trip had not been formally announced, said Russia had given no indication it was willing to engage in good-faith talks about ending the war.

But the official also said that  Biden would not allow the United States to be drawn into an active war with Russia on Ukraine’s behalf, a pledge the president had made before Russian forces entered Ukraine at the end of February.

After meeting with Biden and members of his national security team, Zelensky is expected to hold a news conference at the White House, officials said.

He will then head to Capitol Hill for what is likely to be an electrifying appearancev before a joint session of Congress as Democratic control of the House—and the reign of Representative Nancy Pelosi of California as speaker—nears its end.

While Biden has vowed to continue his support “for as long as it takes,” he faces some resistance in Congress, where Republicans are poised to take control of the House on January 3. Just hours before news of Zelensky’s visit broke, Republican leaders in that chamber had instructed rank-and-file lawmakers to oppose a roughly $1.7 trillion spending bill that includes the Ukraine aid.

Some Republicans in the House have repeatedly opposed previous packages that sent billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, suggesting the money is wasteful or better spent in the United States.

The spending bill, including the funding for Ukraine, is expected to clear Congress by the end of the week, although votes for final passage have not yet been scheduled.

Zelensky’s trip to the United States was set in motion nine days ago during a telephone call between the two leaders, a senior administration official said. The White House formally invited Zelensky a week ago and plans for a speech to Congress began in earnest on Sunday, when the government of Ukraine confirmed his intention to travel to the United States.

Research contact: @nytimes