Ukraine president to address Congress

Zelenskyy's visit comes as lawmakers are poised to approve an additional $44.9 billion in military and economic aid for the country

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy previously addressed Congress remotely in March. (J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty Images)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy previously addressed Congress remotely in March. (J. Scott Applewhite-Pool/Getty Images)
Posted December 21, 2022 at 1:00am

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy plans to visit the White House on Wednesday afternoon and address a joint meeting of Congress in the evening, a senior Biden administration official told reporters Tuesday.

The administration also plans to announce the latest package of aid for Ukraine: almost $2 billion worth, including a Patriot anti-missile battery, the official disclosed. That would bring American security assistance to Ukraine to more than $20 billion since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine last February. 

Zelenskyy’s dramatic visit to Washington comes as Congress prepares to vote on a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill that contains $44.9 billion in new military and economic aid to Ukraine, bringing the total appropriated since the war began to all forms of aid to Ukraine to over $110 billion. 

President Joe Biden, the official said, will reinforce on Wednesday "the fundamental message on this trip — to President Zelenskyy directly, to the Ukrainian people, the American people and the world publicly: that the United States will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes and that, in doing so, that support will remain broad, deep and bipartisan.”

Asked if the visit is meant to send a message to the incoming House GOP majority about the need to keep appropriations flowing for Ukraine, the official said: “This isn't about sending a message to a particular political party. 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.”

Peace talks not on horizon

The dramatic and closely held visit has been in the works since a phone call between Biden and Zelenskyy on Dec. 11, the official said.  

Zelenskyy is expected to meet Wednesday afternoon with Biden, the president's senior national security team and Cabinet members, before delivering his address in the evening at the Capitol, the official said. 

The bilateral talks at the White House are expected to focus on military strategy, provision of arms and training, and Western backing for sanctions, export controls and various forms of assistance — including military and economic aid and energy security support as Ukraine withstands aerial bombardment of its power stations. The official stressed that Biden has no intention of pressing Zelenskyy to go to the peace table with Putin.

"We do not see diplomacy that would lead to an end to the war on just terms as being on the very near term horizon," the official said. 

The Patriot battery, which can shoot down missiles and aircraft, will not be of immediate help to Ukraine. Americans will train Ukrainian troops operating and maintaining the system in an undisclosed third country, a process that “will take some time,” the official said. 

The administration has drawn criticism for waiting this long to begin that process and for being slow to agree, or refusing to agree, to send other weapons. Many are calling for the United States to provide Ukraine with Army Tactical Missile Systems, a long-range surface-to-surface weapon, for example.

300 days of war and counting

Zelenskyy’s visit comes on the 300th day of the war, which shows no signs of abating and some experts think could last years.

“Russia expected that this war would be quick work, that they would be in Kyiv and then dominating the country within a matter of days, but here we are 300 days later and Ukraine stands, Kyiv stands, the Ukrainian people stand,” the official said.