Zelensky addresses Congress, makes push for advanced weapons
In a rousing speech to Congress, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the United States to provide more advanced weapons to Ukraine, arguing that such arms are necessary in order to win a decisive victory in the conflict with Russia.
“We have artillery — yes, thank you,” Zelensky said. “Is it enough? Honestly, not really.”
“Russia could stop its aggression if it wanted to, but you can speed up our victory,” he continued, adding that “Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves.”
Zelensky’s speech found a sympathetic ear among members of Congress, who frequently rose to their feet in standing ovations throughout his address.
“Next year will be a turning point — I know it,” he added. “The point when Ukrainian courage and American resolve must guarantee the future of our common freedom.”
Notably, the Ukrainian leader framed the war as a battle for global democracy. “The struggle will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live,” Zelensky said, adding that “it would be naive to wait for steps toward peace with Russia.”
In a powerful moment at the end of his address, the Ukrainian president thanked lawmakers for their support and provided Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with a Ukrainian flag that Zelensky brought directly from the frontlines in Bakhmut, where he visited troops yesterday.
The Wednesday speech came during Zelensky’s first trip outside Ukraine since Russia’s February invasion. President Joe Biden formally asked the Ukrainian leader to visit Washington during a call last Wednesday, though details about Zelensky’s travel were kept secret until yesterday due to security concerns, according to the Washington Post.
During a press conference earlier in the day, Zelensky called on Congress to pass a $1.7 trillion omnibus funding bill, which would allocate an additional $45 billion in aid for Ukraine.
“I hope that the Congress will approve this financial assistance for our country,” Zelensky said. “Every dollar of this investment for the United States is going to be a strengthening of global security.”
The trip also served as a dramatic rollout for a new U.S. military aid package valued at nearly $2 billion — the largest single tranche of weapons that Washington has sent Kyiv since the war began. Among other things, the shipments will include a Patriot missile defense battery, precision air-to-surface missiles, and a range of armored vehicles.
It remains unclear when Ukrainian forces will be able to put the system into service given that soldiers generally need months of training to operate it. But the decision to send a Patriot battery will serve as a symbol of America’s staunch support for Ukraine’s war effort.
In contrast, Biden showed little interest in heeding calls to send long-range missiles and other offensive arms to Ukraine, suggesting in a Wednesday afternoon press conference that such weapons could cause an escalation to war between NATO and Russia.
“The idea that we would give Ukraine material that is fundamentally different than [is] already going there — we’d have a prospect of breaking up NATO and breaking up the European Union and the rest of the world,” he said, hinting that European allies also have reservations about giving Ukraine longer-range weapons.
The visit also gave American officials an opportunity to publicly reassure observers around the world that the United States is prepared to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes” amid speculation that next year’s GOP-led House could try to force a shift in U.S. policy toward Ukraine.
While officials insist that only Ukraine can decide when it’s time for peace talks, a small group of Republican lawmakers — including Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif), the leading candidate to become House Speaker — has raised concerns about providing a “blank check” to Kyiv while the conflict stokes inflation across the West. These more skeptical voices could have a disproportionate impact on U.S. policy given the GOP’s razor-thin majority in the House.
Traditional Republican leaders, however, are determined to quash this narrative. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that “providing assistance for Ukrainians to defeat the Russians is the number one priority for the United States right now according to most Republicans.”
For some experts, the question goes beyond whether the U.S. should continue to provide aid for Ukraine. George Beebe, a former top Russia analyst at the CIA and the director of grand strategy at the Quincy Institute, argued that the visit provides a chance to pair that support with an effort to lay the foundation for eventual peace talks.
“The only alternative to dangerous escalation is finding some sort of political settlement,” Beebe told RS. “This trip offers some opportunities to start laying the groundwork for such diplomacy.”
Ben Rhodes, a former Obama administration official and a leading voice on progressive foreign policy, said on MSNBC before the visit that Biden would likely take advantage of the privacy of the Oval Office to start such discussions.
“These are not conversations that they’re going to publicize,” Rhodes argued, noting that European pressure for talks is increasing. “But I think privately, President Biden will be exploring when [we can] get these diplomatic channels potentially moving.”
Prior to the trip, CNN reported that the Biden administration planned to discuss a potential path toward ending the conflict. But, given the sensitivity of such talks, it is unclear whether Biden and his team broached the topic of diplomacy with Zelensky.
When asked what an end to the war could look like, the Ukrainian leader highlighted the difficulties of reaching a just peace after such a brutal invasion.
“I would like to emphasize how many parents lost their sons or daughters on the frontlines,” Zelensky said in a press conference. “What is just peace for them? Money is nothing, and no compensations or reparations are of consequence. They live by revenge.”