By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to visit Washington on December 21 on his first trip abroad since Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February and as the United States considers another massive package of military aid.
Zelenskiy is expected to meet with President Joe Biden and address a joint session of Congress during a visit that coincides with the 300th day of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, according to U.S. media reports on December 20.
Two sources who confirmed plans for Zelenskiy’s trip to the AP cautioned that it could still be called off at the last minute due to security concerns.
Zelenskiy is expected to meet with Biden at the White House and visit the U.S. Capitol, where he will meet congressional leaders and members from the Republican and Democratic parties who chair national-security committees.
During his visit the U.S. will announced $1.8 billion in already approved military aid to Ukraine that will for the first time include a Patriot missile battery and precision-guided bombs for their fighter jets, U.S. officials quoted by the AP and CNN said.
U.S. officials described details of the aid on condition of anonymity because it has not yet been announced, the AP reported. The package will have about $1 billion in weapons from Pentagon stocks and another $800 million in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which funds weapons, ammunition, training, and other assistance, officials told the AP.
The news about Zelenskiy’s visit also coincides with Congress’s consideration of a $1.7 trillion spending package that includes another large amount of aid to Ukraine and comes just before adjournment of the current Democrat-controlled Congress.
The aid for Ukraine included in the spending package, which lawmakers are under pressure to pass by midnight on December 23, would be more than $40 billion and would amount to the biggest American infusion of assistance yet. The aid would get Ukraine through the first half of 2023 as a new Congress takes over.
Hosting Zelenskiy will be one of the final acts for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California), who will be replaced by a Republican when the new House session opens early in January. Democrats lost control of the House in the November elections but retained the Senate.
Pelosi hinted in a letter to colleagues on December 20 that a prominent visitor was expected at the Capitol.
“We are ending a very special session of the 117th Congress with legislation that makes progress for the American people as well as support for our Democracy,” Pelosi wrote in the letter, which was quoted by the AP. “Please be present for a very special focus on Democracy Wednesday night.”
Zelenskiy’s visit puts Pelosi’s expected successor, Representative Kevin McCarthy (Republican-California), on the spot after he said in an interview prior to the elections that Americans are “not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.”
The comment raised concern among members of Congress who have vowed to continue supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes to defeat Russia.
As House speaker, McCarthy would have wide latitude to appoint Ukraine-skeptic lawmakers as the chairs of the budgetary and the foreign affairs committees, as well as the power to decide which bills come up for a vote.
Zelenskiy’s visit to Washington would follow a trip to the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk region on December 20 to show support for the “courage, resilience, and strength” of Ukrainian troops.
Though Russia’s invasion has lost momentum, if it were successful in capturing Bakhmut, Russian forces would sever Ukraine’s supply lines and open a route for them to press toward key Ukrainian cities in the Donetsk region.
In a video released by his office, Zelenskiy is seen receiving a Ukrainian flag from the troops in Bakhmut and he alludes to delivering it to U.S. leaders.
“The guys handed over our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures for us to pass on,” Zelenskiy said in the video. “We are not in an easy situation. The enemy is increasing its army. Our people are braver and need more powerful weapons. We will pass it on from the boys to the Congress, to the president of the United States. We are grateful for their support, but it is not enough. It is a hint — it is not enough.”
Zelenskiy has addressed the U.S. Congress once before — on March 16 in a live video address in which he called on lawmakers to pass further sanctions and support a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
He also has addressed the parliaments of several other allied countries and international organizations in live video streams. But none of the speeches has been delivered live and in person.
He also has sent his wife, Olena Zelenska, to foreign capitals to drum up assistance. Zelenska was welcomed to the White House on July 19 and was briefed on U.S. support for Ukraine. She also spoke to lawmakers in an auditorium in the Capitol and visited the State Department.