Zelenskyy is making his case at the US Capitol for more war aid as Republican support softens

WASHINGTON: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy returned to Washington on Thursday for a whirlwind one-day visit, this time facing the Republicans now questioning the flow of American dollars that for 19 months has helped keep his troops in the fight against Russian forces. Zelenskyy arrived at the Capitol to talk privately with Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate as the world is watching Western support for Kyiv. He will also meet with President Joe Biden at the White House and will speak with US military leaders at the Pentagon.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries escorted Zelenskyy into the Capitol. House Republican leaders, who promised tough questions for Zelenskyy on his plans for the way forward for Ukraine‘s war effort, notably chose not to join in greeting the Ukrainian president before the cameras.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul said Zelenskyy’s message for House lawmakers Thursday was “that he’s winning.”
Speaking to reporters, McCaul stressed “The majority of the majority support this,” but said there had to be confidence in a clear strategy for victory for Ukraine.
“War of attrition is not going to win this,” McCaul said. “That’s what Putin wants. He wants to break the will of the American people and the Europeans.”
It is Zelenskyy’s second visit to Washington since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and comes as Biden’s request to Congress for an additional USD 24 billion for Ukraine’s military and humanitarian needs is hanging in the balance. Back home, Russian launched its heaviest strikes in a month in the hours before Zelenskyy’s arrival at Congress, killing three, igniting fires and damaging energy infrastructure as Russian missiles and artillery pounded cities across Ukraine.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called the Ukrainian president “our best messenger” in persuading US lawmakers to keep vital US money and weapons coming.
“It’s really important for members of Congress to be able to hear directly from the president about what he’s facing in this counteroffensive,” Kirby told reporters Wednesday, “and how he’s achieving his goals, and what he needs to continue to achieve those goals.”
Biden has called on world leaders to stand strong with Ukraine, even as he faces domestic political divisions at home. A hard-right flank of Republicans, led by former President Donald Trump, Biden’s chief rival in the 2024 race for the White House, is increasingly opposed to sending more money overseas.
As the White House worked to shore up support for Ukraine before Zelenskyy’s visit, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and top intelligence officials briefed senior lawmakers behind closed doors Wednesday to argue the case.
Zelenskyy faces challenges in Europe as well as cracks emerge in what had been a largely united Western alliance behind Ukraine.
Late Wednesday, Poland’s prime minister said his country is no longer sending arms to Ukraine, a comment that appeared aimed at pressuring Kyiv and put Poland’s status as a major source of military equipment in doubt as a trade dispute between the neighboring states escalates.
Zelenskyy’s visit comes with US and world government leaders watching as Ukrainian forces struggle to take back territory that Russia gained over the past year.
Their progress in the next month or so before the rains come and the ground turns to mud could be critical to rousing additional global support over the winter.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who believes he can outlast allied backing for Kyiv, will be ready to capitalize if he sees Ukraine is running low on air defense or other weapons
Since the start of the war, most members of Congress supported approving four rounds of aid to Ukraine, totaling about USD 113 billion, viewing defense of the country and its democracy as an imperative, especially when it comes to containing Putin. Some of that money went toward replenishing US military equipment sent to the frontlines.
Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, who travelled to Kyiv this week, said cutting off US aid during the Ukrainians’ counteroffensive would be “catastrophic” to their efforts.
“That would clearly be the opening that Putin is looking for,” Kelly said Wednesday. “They cannot be successful without our support.”
The political environment has shifted markedly since Zelenskyy addressed Congress last December on his first trip out of Ukraine since the war began. He was met with rapturous applause for his country’s bravery and surprisingly strong showing in the war.
His meeting with senators on Thursday took place behind closed doors in the Old Senate Chamber, a historic and intimate place of importance at the US Capitol, signifying the respect the Senate is showing the foreign leader.
The Ukrainian leader received a warmer welcome from both parties on his stop in the Senate, with both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer flanking him as he walked in. A few lawmakers of both parties wore clothes with blue and yellow, the color of the Ukrainian flag.
But on the other side of the Capitol, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who faces more opposition within his Trump-aligned ranks to supporting Ukraine, is planning a separate meeting with Zelenskyy, with a smaller bipartisan group of lawmakers and committee chairmen.
“I will have questions for President Zelenskyy,” McCarthy told reporters before the visit.
The House speaker said he wanted more accountability for the money the US has already approved for Ukraine before moving ahead with more.
And, McCarthy said, he wants to know, “What is the plan for victory?”
In the Senate, however, Ukraine has a strong ally in Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who is out front in pushing his party, and the president, to continue robust support for Kyiv.
McConnell urged Biden before Wednesday’s closed-door briefing to senators to make sure the administration’s top brass puts forward a more forceful case in support of Ukraine so Congress can send Zelenskyy what’s needed to win the war.
“I sometimes get the sense that I speak more about Ukraine matters than the president does,” McConnell said in a speech Wednesday.


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