President Joe Biden hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the White House on Thursday, as Zelenskyy continued a visit to the U.S. to shore up support for Ukraine in its war with Russia.
While Congress debates more supplemental funding for the war-torn country, President Biden said he’s “counting on the good judgment of the United States Congress. There is no alternative.”
Biden doubled down on continued support for Ukraine and leadership in rallying global aid.
“We’re committed to help Ukraine build a force capable of ensuring Ukraine’s long-term security capable of deterring future threats against sovereignty, territorial integrity, freedom which are underway now. Because that’s what this is all about. The future. The future of freedom. Americans can never, will never walk away from that. That’s why 575 days later we stand with Ukraine and will continue to stand with you,” Biden told President Zelenskyy.
The meeting marked the third visit to the White House under the Biden administration for Zelenskyy, after a blitz through Washington including meetings with lawmakers and defense leaders. It marked a significant moment for Zelenskyy to directly update U.S. leaders on the battlefield, as officials noted progress in the counteroffensive, and Ukraine’s support and recovery needs.
“The United States Congress supports us. The president supports us. People support us. Ukraine will always be grateful for this. Never before has there been such a powerful unity between Ukraine and America,” Zelenskyy said during a speech at the National Archives.
President Biden announced Abrams tanks would arrive in Ukraine next week, and announced a new security package for Ukraine, which will provide up to $325 million in aid. The package includes a focus on air defense, munitions and anti-tank weapons through previously approved presidential drawdown authority. The package is intended to defend Ukraine “against aerial assaults from Russia now and in the coming winter, when Russia is likely to renew its attacks against Ukrainian critical infrastructure,” according to statement from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and “enhance Ukraine’s capacity to continue its counter-offensive against Russia’s forces.”
According to a readout of the meeting from the White House, discussions also included Ukraine's energy and economic recovery, Zelenskyy’s plans to address corruption, and a U.S. commitment to host a conference to bring together defense industry and business leaders “to explore options for joint ventures and co-production.”
Zelenskyy expressed gratitude for the latest security package and additionally noted “Today we have some important results because we agreed to work on the future force of Ukraine. It’s a very important and strategic decision that will allow us to prevent any new aggression against us, against Ukraine, our people. This will be one of the outcomes of the Vilnius G7 declaration and our bilateral security arrangement,” Zelenskyy said.
But the administration’s request for $24 billion in supplemental funding for Ukraine, covering security, economic, and humanitarian aid, remains in the middle of lawmakers' deliberations on Capitol Hill over government funding.
“Now we'll still have some authorities, and the Pentagon can still do what they can do. But without that supplemental funding, it could have a significant effect on our ability to provide the kinds of arms and equipment and training that the Ukrainians are going to need as they head into the fall,” said John Kirby, NSC coordinator for strategic communication.
Earlier on Thursday, Zelenskyy held meetings with a bipartisan group of House members, followed by a meeting with approximately 70 senators.
Zelenskyy updated the lawmakers on the state of the war and assured them that Ukrainians "are winning."
“The Ukrainian people have suffered immensely as a result of Russian war crimes, but we have liberated more than half of the occupied territory from Russian invaders, and we can clearly see that victory is getting closer. During our meeting, we discussed the battlefield situation and priority defense needs, including air defense. I emphasized that a Ukrainian victory will ensure that neither Russia nor any other dictatorship destabilizes the free world again,” Zelenskyy tweeted.
In contrast with his visit to Congress last year, Zelenskyy returned to a split congress where there is bipartisan support for more aid, but also a growing contingent of Republicans who oppose further funding or have more questions about oversight.
The White House has expressed confidence in broad bipartisan support.
“We have had multiple conversations with members of Congress, from both chambers and from both parties in just the last couple of weeks. And, and we remain confident that the leadership from both parties and in both chambers, the leadership still realize how important it is to continue to support Ukraine,” Kirby said. “And we're confident that that leadership commitment will continue. We're also confident that this number of — and yes, I will admit, it's a growing number of voices, but they do not represent the bulk of their party. And they do not represent the leadership of the party in the House of Representatives.”
Speaker McCarthy said Zelenskyy answers “a lot of questions” for him. When pressed on putting the funding request to the floor before the end of the calendar year, McCarthy said “Well, no. Look, we've got first, our fiscal house taking care of here in America. I'm more than willing to look at that. But the one thing I know is that the president's only focused on that,” according to the Associated Press.
Zelenskyy called the conversations frank and maintained they had “very strong ties” following his visit to the hill.
According to Sen. Angus King, Zelenskyy said he believes that it is "very tough to overcome entrenched defenses" but that "they will make slow but steady progress, but it’s not going to be quick."
Rep. Mike Turner, House Select Intelligence Committee chair, praised Zelenskyy's positive offensive details and long-term goals shared during the meeting.
After Zelenskyy's meeting with the senators, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer conveyed the urgency of the situation to reporters, stating, “There was a single sentence that summed it all up, and I’m quoting him verbatim. Mr. Zelenskiy said, ‘If we don’t get the aid, we will lose the war.’"
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who strongly supports increased aid to Ukraine, championed President Zelenskyy's request for more funds, seemingly addressing his own party rather than Democrats.
“I think it's always good to remind everyone that a good portion of the money allocated to Ukraine is being spent in this country to rebuild our industrial base. It's also important to remember we've not lost a single American,” said McConnell. “These people in Ukraine who are fighting for their independence are taking on one of the two big adversaries we have: Russia and China. It seems to me we ought to be helping.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul threatened to hold up the government spending bill if it included aid to Ukraine.
“I will not consent to any expedited passage of any spending bill that provides any more American aid to Ukraine. It’s as if no one has noticed that we have no extra money to send to Ukraine. Our deficit this year will exceed $1.5 trillion,” Paul said.
Sen. Josh Hawley also did not support more funding, “particularly not without any real oversight,” said Hawley.
But during the meeting Thursday, Michael McCaul, the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, downplayed Republican disagreement on continuing financial and arms support for Ukraine, stating that "the majority supports this."
Zelenskyy said he discussed long-range capabilities and strengthening air defenses during his meeting with defense leaders at the Pentagon.
ATACMS, a long range guided missile system, were notably not included in the aid package announced.
“I'm surprised it's not in this package. The administration had been reluctant to include ATACMS because it could strike into the Russian homeland. And they'd been concerned that that might be seen as an escalation. On the other hand, over the last 18 months, the United States has provided a wide range of weapons to Ukraine. None of those have tripped the escalation barrier,” said ret. Col. Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
However National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Biden “has determined that he would not provide ATACMS, but he has also not taken it off the table in the future.”
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