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Zelenskyy makes one more push for aid before Christmas recess

President Biden also expected to advocate for the supplemental Tuesday

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy smiles back at International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva after they spoke to the press following talks at IMF headquarters on Monday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy smiles back at International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva after they spoke to the press following talks at IMF headquarters on Monday. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

A day before meetings on Capitol Hill, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested that the delay in the U.S. approving further assistance for his country’s defensive war against Russia was offering inspiration to Vladimir Putin.

“Let me be frank with you, friends: If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just Putin and his sick clique,” Zelenskyy said Monday at the National Defense University, where he appeared with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.

The problem facing Zelenskyy when meeting with lawmakers, especially Republicans, is that their demands in exchange for continuing to provide weapons and other support for his war effort seem to have nothing to do with him. A closed Senate briefing last week that was billed as being about Ukraine ended up featuring a heated exchange about border security funding and policy. It was followed by a vote against beginning debate on a funding bill that included more than $61 billion for Ukraine.

Zelenskyy and Austin seemed to be working to convince those who weren’t with them about the countries’ commitment to each other.

“You can count on Ukraine,” the Ukrainian leader said, “and we hope to be able to count just as much on you.”

Austin echoed the sentiment.

“Make no mistake: America’s commitment to support Ukraine against Russian aggression is unshakeable,” Austin said. “America’s word must be kept.”

Zelenskyy called Ukraine “the first front” in what he called Putin’s war on freedom and a “stepping stone” for the Russian leader.

“He’s wrecking everyday life in Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said, “but his real target is the freedom — freedom people enjoy from Warsaw to Chicago to Yokohama.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer also warned that Putin would see an American pullback from Ukraine as invitation for more provocation.

“If Republicans in the Senate do not show they’re serious about finalizing an agreement for the national security package, Vladimir Putin is going to walk through Ukraine and right through Europe,” the Democrat from New York said on the Senate floor Monday. “Both parties understand that aiding Ukraine and resisting Putin are critical for our national security, but Republicans and only Republicans are holding everything up because of unrealistic maximalist demands on the border.”

Zelenskyy’s Tuesday agenda includes a bipartisan Senate meeting in the morning, as well as engagements with Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and a visit to the White House to meet with President Joe Biden. John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, told reporters traveling with the president to Philadelphia on Monday that the time was right for the U.S. president to extend an invitation to his counterpart from Ukraine, days before Congress plans to wrap up work for the year.

“As winter approaches … we’re seeing now increased missile and drone attacks by the Russian armed forces against civilian infrastructure. We expect that that will continue, particularly against energy infrastructure, and as the Russian forces continue to try to take offensive action against the Ukrainians all along that front, but particularly in the east,” Kirby said.

The legislation to provide assistance for Ukraine also includes funds for Israel, Taiwan and border security. Republican lawmakers in particular have said there can be no agreement on the foreign and military assistance without addressing immigration policy.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., highlighted his conference’s demands related to the work of U.S. Customs and Border Protection when he arrived on the Senate floor Monday afternoon.

“With average daily border crossings near 10,000, CBP is now saying it’s releasing 6,600 illegal aliens into the interior every single day,” McConnell said. “The backlog of asylum cases sits at 3 million and counting. And officials have reported arrivals from more than 150 countries just since October 1st. This is what a crisis looks like. This is what the Democratic leader spent last week insisting was ‘extraneous’ to America’s national security.”

McConnell noted that the president has expressed a willingness to make compromises on immigration policy, and Kirby said that Biden would be making another public push for the proposed spending package on Tuesday.

“This is exactly the right time to be having President Zelenskyy in town to have these discussions because of what’s going on in Ukraine, the increased activity we’re seeing by the Russian armed forces as winter approaches, but also what’s going on on Capitol Hill, and the argument that the president’s going to be making with all of you tomorrow about the need to fund this supplemental,” Kirby said.

As of last Thursday, the Pentagon said there was about $4.8 billion still available for the president to draw down for Ukraine, but as top Biden administration officials have said, there is no “magical pot” of money available when the authorities are exhausted.

Caroline Coudriet contributed to this report.

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