WASHINGTON — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was due to arrive in the United States on Wednesday for a whirlwind visit with President Biden and an address before a joint meeting of Congress to cement American support ahead of a transition to a divided government in Washington and as Russia’s war in Ukraine is entering its second year.
Mr Zelensky’s trip, his first outside his home country since the Russian invasion last February, was secret and took place on the 300th day of the conflict. The pre-Christmas visit comes ahead of what is expected to be a difficult winter in Ukraine, which has withstood months of Russian bombing and attacks on the country’s infrastructure, leaving many civilians without heat or electricity.
At their White House meeting, Mr. Biden is expected to unveil a roughly $1.8 billion security assistance package for Ukraine that would include, for the first time, a Patriot anti-missile battery and equipment that converts unguided munitions into precision-guided missiles, they said US officials. Ukraine’s power grid and other infrastructure have been destroyed by ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones that Russia acquired from Iran.
But the new support is unlikely to include the US planes, American tanks and the US Army’s long-range tactical missile system, which Kyiv has long been looking for to oust Russian troops from southern and eastern Ukraine, US officials said. It is expected that Mr. Zelensky will reiterate his request for this equipment during the visit.
The war leader will appear before members of Congress Wednesday night, in part to thank lawmakers who have so far approved billions of dollars in security and economic aid to support the war effort. Mr. Biden and supporters in Congress have said the aid is vital to protecting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s allies and preserving democracy around the world.
Members of Congress are to allocate an additional $44.9 billion to Ukraine and NATO allies under a 2023 budget bill. Ukraine has received multiple rounds of funding from the US, with nearly $54 billion approved as of May.
House Republicans are expected to take the majority in January and are likely to resist further spending by Ukraine. Some attendees at the GOP conference have called for a full scrutiny of how Washington and Kyiv spent the money, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R., California), who is running for speaker of the House, has said Republicans will not “blank check.” for Ukraine.
Other senior Republicans have spoken out in favor of providing additional aid to Ukraine. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said Wednesday that supporting Kiev is in the US strategic interest.
“Helping our friends in Eastern Europe win this war is also a direct investment in reduction [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s future ability to threaten America, threaten our allies and challenge our core interests,” McConnell said.
Mr Zelensky’s visit drew comparisons to the historic wartime visit of Winston Churchill, the late British Prime Minister, who delivered a speech in the Senate Chamber on December 26, 1941 during the Second World War.
“Where Winston Churchill stood generations ago, President Zelensky will stand here today, not only as President, but as the ambassador of liberty himself,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., NY).
On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Zelensky was scheduled to meet with Mr. Biden in the Oval Office. According to the White House, the two leaders should then hold a joint press conference.
After his meeting with Mr. Biden, the Ukrainian leader is scheduled to travel to Capitol Hill. He will meet with outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., California) after his speech to Congress at 7:30 p.m.
—Natalie Andrews and Lindsay Wise contributed to this article.
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