WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday that Ukraine still stands “against all odds” as he made a defiant wartime visit to Washington to thank U.S. leaders and “common Americans” for their support in countering it thanks to the Russian invasion. He promised “no compromises” in trying to end the war.
Zelenskyy delivered an impassioned speech to Congress aimed at maintaining support for his country’s defense and called the tens of billions of dollars in US military and economic aid over the past year crucial to Ukraine’s efforts to push back Russia and asked for more in the future.
“Your money is not charity,” he tried to reassure both those in the room and those watching at home. “It is an investment in global security and democracy that we have managed in the most responsible manner.”
The speech to Congress came after President Joe Biden welcomed Zelensky into the Oval Office and said the US and Ukraine would uphold their “common defense” while Russia launched a “brutal assault on Ukraine’s right to exist as a nation.” and promised to help bring about a “just peace”.
Zelenskyy, on his first known trip outside of his country since Russia invaded in February, said he wanted to visit him earlier and his visit now shows that “thanks to your support, the situation is under control”.
Speaking to lawmakers, Ukraine’s leader predicted that the next year would be a “watershed moment” in the conflict, “when Ukrainian courage and American determination must guarantee the future of our common freedom — the freedom of people who stand up for their values.” “.
Zelenskyi received thunderous applause from members of Congress and presented MPs with a Ukrainian flag signed by front-line troops in Bakhmut in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk province, which was held aloft on the podium by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris behind him would. Pelosi presented him with an American flag that was flown over the Capitol that day.
Declaring that Ukraine “will never capitulate,” Zelenskyy warned that the stakes of the conflict are greater than just his nation’s fate – that democracy is being tested around the world.
“This battle cannot be ignored in the hope that the ocean or something will provide shelter,” he said, speaking in English for what he had dubbed a “speech to the Americans.”
Zelenskky appeared aware of political divisions in the US over prolonged foreign spending, and urged lawmakers in the House and Senate to ensure American leadership remains “bicameral and bipartisan.”
In a joint press conference with Biden, Zelenskyy was pressured on how Ukraine would try to end the conflict. Rejecting Biden’s formulation of a “just peace,” he said, “For me as president, ‘just peace’ means no compromises.” He said the war will end once Ukraine’s sovereignty, freedom and territorial integrity are restored and Russia’s Ukraine paid back all the damage done by its armed forces.
“There can be no ‘just peace’ in the war that has been forced upon us,” he added.
The highly sensitive trip came after 10 months of a brutal war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides and devastated Ukrainian civilians. Zelenskyy’s visit should rekindle support for his country in the US and around the world amid concerns that allies are growing weary of the costly war and its disruption to the world’s food and energy supplies.
Shortly before his arrival, the US announced a $1.8 billion military aid package, including Patriot surface-to-air missiles for the first time, and Congress planned to vote on a spending package worth about $45 billion of emergency aid to Ukraine.
Russia, Biden said, “is trying to weaponize winter, but Ukrainians continue to inspire the world.” During the press conference, he said Russian President Vladimir Putin “has no intention of ending this cruel war.”
The two leaders appeared to share a warm relationship, laughing at each other’s comments and patting each other on the back throughout the visit, though Zelenskyy made it clear he will continue to press Biden and other Western leaders for ever-greater support.
He said after the Patriot system goes live, “we’re going to send another signal to President Biden that we’d like to get more Patriots.”
“We’re at war,” Zelenskyy added with a smile as Biden chuckled at the direct prompt. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
Biden said it was “important for the American people and for the world to hear directly from you, Mr. President, about Ukraine’s struggle and the need to stand together through 2023.”
Zelenskyy headed abroad after making a daring and dangerous trip Tuesday to what he called the hottest spot on the war’s 1,300-kilometer frontline, the town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk province. He praised the Ukrainian troops for their “courage, resilience and strength” as artillery pounded in the background.
Poland’s private broadcaster TVN24 said Zelenskyy entered Poland early on Wednesday on his way to Washington. The station showed footage of what appeared to be Zelenskyy arriving at a train station and being escorted to a motorcade of American SUVs. According to TVN24, the video, which was partially blurred for security reasons, was shot in Przemysl, a Polish border town that was the arrival point for many war refugees.
Officials citing security concerns have been reticent about Zelenskyy’s travel plans, but a US official confirmed that Zelenskyy arrived on a US Air Force jet that had landed at Joint Base Andrews just outside the capital from the Polish city of Rzeszow.
Biden told Zelenskyy, who wore a battle green sweatshirt and boots, that “it’s an honor to be by your side.”
US and Ukrainian officials have made it clear that they do not see an immediate solution to the war and are preparing to continue fighting for some time. The latest infusion of US funds would be the largest yet – and exceed Biden’s $37 billion demand.
Biden has reiterated that while the US will arm and train Ukraine, American forces will not be directly involved in the war.
Biden and Zelenskyy first discussed the idea of a visit during a phone call Dec. 11, followed by a formal invitation three days later, according to a senior US government official. Zelenskyy accepted the invitation on Friday and it was confirmed on Sunday when the White House began coordinating with Pelosi to arrange the congressional address.
The White House has been consulting with Zelenskyy on security, including the risk of Russian action while he is briefly out of the country, said the official, who declined to detail the measures taken to protect the Ukrainian leader. Officials briefed reporters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the visit.
The latest US military aid package will include not only a Patriot missile battery but also precision-guided bombs for fighter jets, US officials said. It represents an extension of the breed of advanced weapons designed to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses against the increasing barrage of Russian missiles.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the delivery of the advanced surface-to-air missile system was seen as a provocative move and that the system and any crew accompanying it were a legitimate target for the Moscow military.
“It’s a defense system,” Biden said of sending the missile system. “It’s not escalating — it’s defensive.”
It was unclear when the Patriot battery would arrive at the front lines in Ukraine, given the need for US troops to train Ukrainian forces. The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that the training, which is expected to be carried out in Germany, could take several months.
The visit comes at an important time as the White House braces for more opposition when Republicans take control of the House in January and take a closer look at aid to Ukraine. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California said his party would not issue a “blank check” for Ukraine.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer opened the chamber’s session 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 “clearly “ stand by Ukraine. Tracy was later confirmed by a vote of 93-2.
Top Senate Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, “The most fundamental reasons for continuing to help Ukraine demote and defeat the Russian invaders are cold, hard, practical American interests.” He said, ” defeating Russian aggression will help prevent further security crises in Europe”.
Russia’s invasion, which began on February 24, has lost momentum. The illegally annexed provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhia remain fiercely contested.
Amid the stalemate in the east, Moscow has used missiles and drones to attack Ukraine’s power supply, hoping to leave people without power as freezing weather sets in.
Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Kyiv-based think tank Penta Center, said Zelenskyy’s visit to the US “should determine the course of the war – Zelenskyy has dared to leave Ukraine for the first time and expects to be able to keep it going, possibly even.” Strengthen U.S. military and economic aid.”
Putin told his country’s military leaders on Wednesday that Russia will achieve its stated goals in Ukraine and use the combat experience to strengthen its military. His Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia’s military needs to be increased from the current 1 million to 1.5 million during the fighting in Ukraine.
Castillo reported from Kyiv, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor, Tara Copp, Aamer Madhani, Chris Megerian and Seung Min Kim in Washington, Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv and Andrew Katell in New York contributed to this report.
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