Zelensky in Washington today to address Congress, meet with Biden
UPDATE 12/21, 6AM ET: Zelensky is indeed “making his way” to Washington to meet with Congress and President Biden on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. Security concerns had kept the visit largely under wraps and uncertain, but the Ukrainian president insisted in a tweet that he was coming to “strengthen resilience and defense capabilities” of Ukraine, and discuss cooperation between his country and the U.S.
Biden’s spokesperson also said the visit will reinforce Washington’s commitment to Ukraine, and Zelensky’s speech to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night will demonstrate “the strong, bipartisan support for Ukraine.”
“The visit will underscore the United States’ steadfast commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement, “including through the provision of economic, humanitarian, and military assistance.”
Biden is expected to use the moment to announce another $1.8 billion tranche of weapons for Ukraine, including a Patriot Missile System and precision guided missiles for Ukraine’s fighter jets, according to the AP. Congress is set to pass another $45 billion in fresh aid as well.
According to reports tonight, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky is planning a “daring” trip to the United States, where he is expected to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. The last time he gave such a speech was in March, and it was via a live link from Kyiv.
The visit — if it happens — comes at an auspicious moment in U.S.-Ukraine relations. Congress is poised to pass a massive spending bill this week that will keep the government running and allocate another $45 billion to Ukraine in economic and military aid. This will bring total U.S aid to Ukraine, which has been fighting against a brutal Russian invasion since February, to over $100 billion dollars.
According to the New York Times tonight:
Mr. Zelensky is expected to join Mr. Biden at the White House for an announcement on Wednesday — likely to include a pledge by the Biden administration of a new round of military assistance — before heading to Capitol Hill for a prime time speech, according to two people familiar with the planning. …
There were suggestions that an unusual session of Congress was in the works. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California earlier on Tuesday sent a letter to all House lawmakers asking them to attend the Wednesday night session in person, even though lawmakers retain the ability to vote remotely.
“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. Please be present for a very special focus on Democracy Wednesday night,” Ms. Pelosi wrote.
There is plenty of speculation already beginning over Zelensky’s timing. The increased aid is already assured, given that any Republican opposition won’t be enough to topple its inclusion in the $1.6 trillion omnibus while Democrats still hold the majority in both houses. The optics of the war-embattled Ukrainian president — who was just named TIME’s person of the year — standing in front of Congress while his country fights for sovereignty is hard to compete with, and any vocal criticism of the aid (several Republicans have said they are concerned about the “blank check” lack of oversight, and how it is being paid for) is destined to be drowned out as a result. But others think Zelensky has more on his mind.
“Zelensky’s visit is likely intended to solidify bipartisan support for Ukraine and maybe to discourage voices advocating for negotiations at this stage,” surmises Suzanne Loftus, research fellow at the Quincy Institute’s Eurasia program. “Ukraine believes it can win the war faster with an increase in weapons supply. The Biden Administration has so far been reluctant to send longer-range missiles to Ukraine to avoid further escalation with Russia.”
Maybe this is a chance to get more of a commitment in that direction. Stay tuned.