Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is due to visit the White House and address a joint session of Congress Wednesday as he makes his first known visit outside of Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion of the country in February.
Zelenskyy tweeted early Wednesday that he was on his way to the United States “to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities of Ukraine.”
A senior administration official told reporters that U.S. President Joe Biden invited Zelenskyy to meet with him, his national security team and his Cabinet. The official said the talks would include “an in-depth strategic discussion on the way ahead on the battlefield,” what equipment and training the U.S. and other allies could provide, as well as economic, energy and humanitarian aid.
“President Biden will have the opportunity to reinforce that this support is not just about what we have done before, but what we will do today and what we will continue to do for as long as it takes,” the official said.
While Zelenskyy is not known to have left Ukraine, he has made visits outside of the capital, Kyiv, including going Tuesday to the eastern city of Bakhmut where his forces have been engaged in heavy fighting.
Zelenskyy has repeatedly urged the U.S. and others to provide air defense systems that could help Ukraine deal with missile and drone attacks by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces that have hit cities across the country and battered its infrastructure.
Ahead of Zelenskyy’s arrival in Washington, the U.S. announced a new package of military aid for Ukraine that includes Patriot missile batteries, a more advanced air defense system than what Ukraine has been able to access before.
“This $1 billion drawdown will provide Ukraine with expanded air defense and precision-strike capabilities, as well as additional munitions and critical equipment that Ukraine is using so effectively to defend itself on the battlefield,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“The Department of Defense is also announcing an additional $850 million of security assistance for Ukraine today under its Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. This will bring total U.S. military assistance for Ukraine to an unprecedented $21.9 billion since the beginning of the Administration,” he added.
Outside of the logistical part of the talks, the administration official said Zelenskyy’s visit carries a symbolic importance in the United States, Ukraine and elsewhere in the world, giving the opportunity to “underscore the United States’ enduring commitment to Ukraine.”
“This is about sending a message to Putin and sending a message to the world that America will be there for Ukraine for as long as it takes,” the official said. “President Putin badly miscalculated the beginning of this conflict when he presumed that the Ukrainian people would yield and that NATO would be disunited. He was wrong on both those counts. He remains wrong about our staying power. And that’s what this visit will demonstrate.”
The official said Zelenskyy’s address to Congress will particularly show the bipartisan nature of U.S. support.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shared a letter sent on behalf of bipartisan leadership in Congress to Zelenskyy inviting him to speak before a joint session Wednesday.
“The fight for Ukraine is the fight for democracy itself,” Pelosi wrote. “We look forward to hearing your inspiring message of unity, resilience and determination. Thank you for your leadership and consideration of this request.”
What will not be part of Zelenskyy’s visit, according to the Biden administration, is any kind of push for Ukraine to try to come to a negotiated end to the war Russia started.
The senior administration official said Russia could end the war at any time by leaving Ukraine, and that Russia has shown no intention of doing that or engaging in serious negotiations.
The official said Biden “is not going to pressure or push Zelenskyy to the negotiating table, but rather, he is going to work with Congress and with our allies to put Ukraine in the best possible position on the battlefield, so that when the time is right they are in the best possible position at the negotiating table.”