In his first known trip abroad since Russia invaded Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to arrive in Washington on Wednesday to meet with President Biden and address a joint session of Congress.
US officials kept details of his visit under wraps amid security concerns. Despite the heavy shroud laid over Zelensky’s plans, it was widely reported that he would travel to Washington to visit Capitol Hill and appear at the White House.
Zelensky’s visit, his second visit to the United States as President, comes as lawmakers prepare to vote on a $1.7 trillion year-end fiscal bill that will include nearly $45 billion in economic and security aid to Ukraine, $8 billion more than Biden requested from Congress last month.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) stressed that lawmakers should endeavor to show up in person for Wednesday’s session.
“We are concluding a very special session of the 117th Congress with legislation that will bring advancement for the American people and support for our democracy,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues Tuesday. “Please be present for a very special focus on democracy on Wednesday night.”
Zelensky will appear before House Republicans, some of whom have expressed an interest in curtailing aid to Ukraine when they take over the House of Commons in January. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said his party “will not give Ukraine a blank check,” raising concerns about Washington’s ability to help Kyiv fend off Russia in the coming months.
This trip would be the first known time that Zelenskyy left Ukraine since the beginning of the war. 24. His determination to remain in Kyiv even when it was under attack – and when his Russian enemies claimed he had fled – and his nightly video addresses helped his people and emboldened their country’s Ukrainian defenders. He repeatedly debunked Russian propaganda by showing up in parts of Ukraine with a video camera in tow.
The visit also comes as Ukrainian requests for Patriot long-range surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles gain traction, with the announcement of a US decision to deliver the advanced weapons expected as soon as this week. Zelensky might think his presence could seal the deal.
Zelensky’s performances on the front lines, in subway stations where Ukrainians huddled in fear, and even in the most war-ravaged cities like Bucha, where allegedly enormous atrocities were being committed by Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians, served as an accomplished one Morale boost for a population believing it is fighting for its identity.
His risky departure from the country – with an equally dangerous return – is a surprising detour from this campaign. Zelensky may have felt the need to make a more vigorous, personal appeal for additional US arms and other aid at a time when a soon-to-be-Republican-dominated House has been circulating ideas to limit such aid.
Zelensky’s visit was first reported by Punchbowl News.
His determination to stand up for Ukraine has earned him international accolades, including Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, which said he embodied the “spirit” of a country that broke away from the former Soviet Union and is now one besieged by a Russian leader who believes it should never have been allowed to separate.
US officials did not provide any information about how Zelenskyj was traveling. Scores of high-level delegations, including Prime Ministers of neighboring European countries Pelosi and US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, have ventured into Ukraine by train and traveled relatively safely from Poland to Kyiv.
But security is a changing state, and in recent weeks the Russian military has escalated airstrikes on numerous civilian targets across Ukraine, including power grids, plunging much of the country’s population into darkness and cold as the region winters devours.
From the beginning of the war, Zelenskyy said he was Russia’s No. 1 target for assassination, and that seemed possible when Kremlin forces tried – and ultimately failed – to capture Kyiv.
Earlier Tuesday, in another display of his flair for battlezone drama, Zelensky emerged in Bakhmut, an eastern city that was under one of the most intense Russian attacks in recent days. Russian forces attempted to encircle the city, 380 miles east of Kyiv, in their broader goal of capturing the entire Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.
Zelensky’s performance was seen as another attempt to boost morale. For the Russians, the capture of Bakhmut would open a route for Russian forces to advance on towns in the eastern region that remain in Ukrainian hands. Mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a shadowy paramilitary organization run by a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, are assigned to lead the Russian offensive in Bakhmut.