Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was heading to Washington for a summit with President Joe Biden and was set to address the US Congress in his first known trip out of the country since Russia’s invasion began in February.
On Wednesday, Zelenskyy said on his Twitter account that the visit was “to strengthen Ukraine’s resilience and defense capabilities” and discuss US-U.S. cooperation with Biden.
The highly sensitive trip comes after 10 months of a brutal war that has left tens of thousands dead and injured on both sides of the conflict, along with devastation to Ukrainian civilians.
The Kremlin said that nothing good would come of the visit and that Russia saw no possibility of peace talks with Kyiv.
“The supply of weapons continues and the range of weapons supplied is expanding. All this, of course, leads to an aggravation of the conflict. This does not bode well for Ukraine,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a call with journalists about Western arms supplies to Ukraine.
US lawmakers will vote on a year-end spending package that includes about $45 billion in emergency assistance for Ukraine as the Pentagon prepares to send Patriot surface-to-air missiles into the country to defend itself.
Road to the US to strengthen the resilience and defense capabilities of 🇺🇦. In particular, @POTUS and I will discuss the cooperation between 🇺🇦 and 🇺🇸. I will also have a speech in Congress and a series of bilateral meetings.
— Volodymyr Zelensky (@ZelenskyyUa) December 21, 2022
Zelenskyy headed abroad after making a daring and dangerous journey on Tuesday to what he called the hottest spot on the 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) front line of the conflict, the town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s disputed Donetsk province. . He praised the Ukrainian troops for their “courage, resilience and strength” as artillery rumbled in the background.
Going to the United States after visiting Bakhmut was “extremely significant,” Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.
“First of all, both the visit itself and the level of the planned meetings bear unequivocal testimony to the high degree of trust between the countries. Secondly, this finally puts an end to the attempts of the Russian side… to demonstrate an alleged increasing cooling in our bilateral relations,” he told the Reuters news agency.
Ukraine needs “…weapons, weapons and more weapons. It is important to personally explain why we need certain types of weapons. In particular, armored vehicles, the latest missile defense systems and long-range missiles, ”he added.
In a statement Tuesday night, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden was looking forward to the visit and that the address to Congress will demonstrate “strong bipartisan support for Ukraine.”
“The visit will underscore the United States’ firm commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it is needed, including through the provision of economic, humanitarian, and military assistance,” he said.
Zelenskyy was scheduled to meet Biden at the White House in the afternoon and then join Biden for a news conference in the East Room. He was expected to address Congress in the evening.
In her invitation for Zelenskyy to address a joint meeting of Congress at the US Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that “the fight for Ukraine is the fight for democracy itself” and that lawmakers “look forward to hearing your inspiring message of unity, resilience and determination.”
US and Ukrainian officials have made it clear that they do not foresee an imminent resolution of the war and are preparing for the fighting to continue for some time. Biden has repeated that while the United States will arm and train Ukraine, US forces will not be directly involved in the conflict.
Biden and Zelenskyy first discussed the idea of a visit to Washington during their most recent phone call, on December 11, and a formal invitation followed three days later, a senior US administration official said, briefing reporters on condition anonymous due to sensitive nature. of the visit
Zelenskyy accepted the invitation on Friday and it was confirmed on Sunday, when the White House began coordinating with Pelosi to organize the address to Congress.
The White House consulted with Zelenskyy about security for his departure from Ukraine and trip to Washington, including the risk of Russian action while Zelenskyy was briefly out of the country, the official added, declining to detail measures taken to safeguard the Ukrainian leader. .
The official said Washington expected Moscow to continue its attacks on Ukrainian forces and civilian infrastructure targets despite the trip.
The US funding tranche pending before Congress would be the largest US infusion of assistance to Ukraine yet, even more than Biden’s $37 billion emergency request, and is meant to ensure support flows to the war effort in the next few months.
Washington was also scheduled to announce Wednesday that it will send a $1.8 billion military aid package to Ukraine that will include for the first time a Patriot missile battery and precision-guided bombs for its warplanes, US officials said.
The aid signals an expansion by the United States in the types of advanced weaponry it will send to Ukraine to bolster its air defenses against what has been an increasing barrage of Russian missiles in recent weeks.
The package will include about $1 billion worth of weapons from Pentagon stocks and $800 million in funding through the Ukrainian Security Assistance Initiative, authorities said.
The decision to send the Patriot battery comes despite threats from the Russian Foreign Ministry that handing over the advanced surface-to-air missile system would be considered a provocative step and that the Patriot and any accompanying crew would be a legitimate target for the Moscow army. .
It is not clear exactly when the Patriot will arrive on the front lines in Ukraine, as US troops will have to train Ukrainian forces on how to use the high-tech system.
The training could last several weeks and is expected to take place in Germany. To date, all training of Ukrainian forces by the United States and its Western allies has taken place in European countries.
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