Ukraine leader greeted by U.S. President Joe Biden, to address Congress this evening
U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the White House on Wednesday as the leaders try to show a unified front against Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Their summit was Zelenskyy's first known trip outside his home country since the war began in February.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden greeted Zelenskyy, who wore casual army green attire, as he got out of his vehicle. He shook hands with Biden before they went inside for their Oval Office meeting, followed by a news conference. In the evening, Zelenskyy will address the U.S. Congress.
"I am in Washington today to thank the American people, the president and the Congress for their much-needed support," Zelenskyy posted on his official Instagram account after he landed. "And also to continue co-operation to bring our victory closer." He said the visit would "strengthen resilience and defence capabilities" of Ukraine.
The highly sensitive trip is taking place after 10 months of a brutal war that has seen tens of thousands killed and wounded on both sides of the conflict, along with devastation for Ukrainian civilians. It also comes as U.S. lawmakers are set to vote on a year-end spending package that includes about $45 billion US in emergency assistance to Ukraine and as the Pentagon prepares to send Patriot surface-to-air missiles to the country to defend itself.
Zelenskyy was meeting with Biden at the White House during the afternoon and will join the U.S. president for a news conference in the East Room of the White House. He was expected to address Congress in the evening.
In her invitation to Zelenskyy to address a joint meeting of Congress at the U.S. 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." Pelosi visited Zelenskyy earlier this year while visiting Kyiv.
Biden and Zelenskyy first discussed the idea of a visit to Washington during their most recent phone call, on Dec. 11, and a formal invitation followed three days later, said a senior U.S. administration official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the visit.
The White House consulted with Zelenskyy on security for his departure from Ukraine and travel to Washington, including the risk of Russian action while Zelenskyy was briefly out of the country, the official added, declining to provide details on the measures taken to safeguard the Ukrainian leader. The official said the U.S. expected Russia to continue its attacks on Ukrainian forces and civilian infrastructure targets despite the trip.
Patriot missiles seen as escalation by Kremlin
The tranche of U.S. funding pending before Congress would be the biggest American infusion of assistance yet to Ukraine. On Wednesday, the United States was also set to announce that it will send a major package of $1.8 billion in military aid to Ukraine that will for the first time include a Patriot missile battery and precision-guided bombs for its fighter jets, U.S. officials said.
The aid signals an expansion by the U.S. in the kinds of advanced weaponry it will send to Ukraine to bolster its air defences against what has been an increasing barrage of Russian missiles in recent weeks.
Biden has repeated that while the U.S. will arm and train Ukraine, American forces will not be directly engaged in the conflict.
The Kremlin warned on Wednesday that increasing the supply of U.S. arms to Ukraine would aggravate the devastating war in Ukraine, where President Vladimir Putin vowed Russia would achieve its goals.
Speaking during a meeting with his top military brass, Putin said Russia's military should learn lessons and modernize based on its experiences in Ukraine and that special emphasis would go to developing his country's nuclear forces, which he described as "the main guarantee of Russia's sovereignty."
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu at the same meeting said Russia's military must expand from its current size of one million personnel to 1.5 million service members, a number that should include 695,000 volunteer contract soldiers. He also said Russia would form new units in the country's west in view of plans by Finland and Sweden to join NATO.
Patriot training could take weeks
It's not clear exactly when the Patriot missiles would arrive on the front lines in Ukraine, since U.S. troops will have to train Ukrainian forces on how to use the high-tech system. The training could take several weeks and is expected to be done in Germany.
The visit comes at an important moment as the White House braces for greater resistance when Republicans, who have been more lukewarm on the subject of aid for Ukraine, take control of the House of Representatives in January. Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy has said his party's lawmakers will not write a "blank check" for Ukraine.
Putin admits to Russia’s difficulties in Eastern Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin made a rare admission that things are not going well for the Russians in Eastern Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy met his troops in and around the city of Bakhmut, where the fighting is fierce.
Biden and Zelenskyy have frequently talked by phone as the White House arranges new tranches of military assistance for Ukraine. The calls have been mostly warm, with Biden praising Ukraine for remaining steadfast against the Russians and Zelenskyy thanking the U.S. president for support.
The one exception was a June phone call soon after Biden notified Zelenskyy that an additional $1-billion package was headed to Ukraine. Zelenskyy didn't miss a beat in ticking off the additional assistance he said Ukraine needed.
That irked Biden, who underscored to Zelenskyy the American people's generosity. But the brief moment of tension hasn't caused any lasting difficulty, according to officials familiar with the episode.
Russia's invasion, which began Feb. 24, has lost momentum. The illegally annexed provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia remain fiercely contested.
With the fighting in the east at a stalemate, Moscow has used missiles and drones to attack Ukraine's power equipment, hoping to leave people without electricity as freezing weather sets in.
Zelenskyy on Tuesday visited the battleground city of Bakhmut in Ukraine's contested Donetsk province. He praised Ukrainian troops for their "courage, resilience and strength" as artillery boomed in the background.
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