Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Thursday as he faced Republican skeptics in the US Congress that Kyiv will lose its war against the Russian invasion if the flow of billions of dollars in aid gets cut.
Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, a major supporter of President Joe Biden’s pro-Ukraine policies, said Zelensky had told him “if we don’t get the aid, we will lose the war.”
The United States has spearheaded Western support for Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion in February 2022, with Congress approving more than $100 billion in aid to date, including $43 billion in weaponry.
But the hard-right faction dominating the Republican Party is increasingly adamant that the aid spigot should be turned off, with polls showing Republican voters are getting cold feet, in part due to messaging from Donald Trump as he seeks a return to the White House in 2024.
This meant Zelensky’s second wartime visit to Congress, followed by stops at the Pentagon and a meeting with Biden in the White House, was far more challenging than his dramatic first trip in December 2022 when he received a hero’s welcome.
Zelensky, wearing his trademark olive green military style shirt, said as he arrived in the US capital that he expected “important negotiations” and “air defense for Ukraine is among the top issues.”
The Ukrainian leader arrived right after another wave of Russian missile strikes. The attacks — hitting cities across the country — killed at least three people in Kherson and wounded many in other areas.
– ‘Enough is enough’ –
Instead of the major televised address to lawmakers at the Capitol during his previous Washington visit, Zelensky started this time by meeting the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, who offered only a discreet welcome.
McCarthy is having trouble keeping a lid on internal party squabbling over US spending in Ukraine.
Some Republicans say the money could be better spent on US border security, while there are also concerns about the pace of Kyiv’s counteroffensive and that corruption in Ukraine means the money will go to waste.
It’s a trend that has also reached parts of the Republican Senate, where Senator Roger Marshall said Congress should not be “sending another blank check to Zelensky.”
A group of six senators issued a joint letter declaring that “enough is enough” and vowing to block all future funding requests.
However, there was a more positive note from the moderate Republican head of the House Foreign Affairs committee, Michael McCaul, who said that Zelensky had told him “that he’s winning”.
“I asked what do you need? What’s your plan for victory?,” McCaul told reporters, adding that Ukraine is “going to get” the $24 billion aid tranche wanted by the White House.
Earlier this week, Zelensky attended the UN General Assembly meeting in New York where he urged the world to stand firm with Ukraine against Russia’s “genocide.”
– ‘Brutalize Ukraine’ –
The White House said the Ukrainian leader’s visit came at a “really critical time” as Ukraine’s slow-moving counteroffensive against Russian forces grinds forward ahead of winter.
Zelensky’s reported request for longer-range ATACMS missiles that can strike up to 300 kilometers (190 miles) away is “not off the table” but there has been no decision yet, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
Biden has pledged to stand by Kyiv no matter what. His 2024 reelection campaign is seeking to portray his steady support for Ukraine as a way of demonstrating his global leadership.
The US president and First Lady Jill Biden will greet Zelensky and his wife Olena Zelenska at the White House before the two leaders have head-to-head talks in the Oval Office, according to US officials.
Biden is “looking forward to getting a battlefield perspective directly from Ukraine’s commander in chief,” added Kirby.
Biden, speaking Tuesday at the UN, warned against abandoning Ukraine. “Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence,” he said.
His warning came a day before Poland said it would no longer arm Ukraine in a mounting row over grain exports. On Thursday, it clarified that it would fulfill existing arms supply deals.
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