Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrapped up his visit to Washington Wednesday with an impassioned speech before a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, saying Ukraine’s struggle “will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live.”
“Against all odds, and doom and gloom scenarios,” he began, “Ukraine did not fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking.”
He thanked the U.S. for its military equipment and its financial support.
“Your money is not charity,” he assured Congress. “It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”
He ended by presenting to the Congress a battle flag given to him by the Ukrainian defenders of Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine where his forces have been engaged for months in heavy fighting. In return, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave him a U.S. flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.
Earlier Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed Zelenskyy to the White House, his first known visit outside Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion of the country in February.
The American people “have stood proudly” with Ukrainians, Biden said.
“Democrats and Republicans together with our allies in Europe and Japan and other places, to make sure you have the financial, humanitarian and security assistance that is needed,” he added, noting that it has been 300 days since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his “brutal assault on Ukraine's right to exist as a nation.”
Zelenskyy, who spoke in English, extended to Biden his appreciation for the bipartisan support “from my heart, the hearts of Ukrainians, all Ukrainians.”
“Thanks, from our just ordinary people to your ordinary people, Americans,” he said.
Zelenskyy also gave Biden a Cross for Military Merit medal that belonged to a Ukrainian soldier, a captain of a HIMARS battery provided by the U.S. The soldier had asked Zelenskyy to give it to the “very brave president.” Accepting the medal, Biden said it was “undeserved, but much appreciated.”
The two later held a joint press conference in which Biden reassured Zelenskyy of U.S. support.
"We're going to give Ukraine what it needs to be able to defend itself, to be able to succeed, and to succeed on the battlefield," Biden said, adding "We are staying with Ukraine as long as Ukraine is there."
Asked why not just give all the weapons capabilities that Ukraine is asking for, Biden said the U.S. is giving Ukraine what it needs to be able to defend itself and succeed in the battlefield.
“The idea that we would give Ukraine material that is fundamentally different than what is already going there would have a prospect of breaking up NATO and breaking up the European Union and the rest of the world,” he said.
Biden said he has spent “several hundred hours” with European allies to urge them to continue to support Ukraine.
“They understand it fully, but they're not looking to go to war with Russia. They're not looking for a Third World War,” he said.
Zelenskyy was asked if there is a way to end the war, a “just peace.”
“For me as a president,” Zelenskyy said, “just peace is no compromise as to the sovereignty, freedom and territorial integrity of my country. The payback for all the damages inflicted by Russian aggression.”
The trip comes as U.S. lawmakers are debating $45 billion more in emergency aid to Ukraine, which would bring the total American wartime assistance to more than $100 billion.
Patriot missile defense
As Zelenskyy touched down on U.S. soil, the U.S. Department of Defense announced $1.85 billion in additional security assistance for Ukraine, which includes a Patriot air defense battery and munitions, additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), missiles, artillery and other munitions. It’s the 28th such drawdown of equipment Biden has authorized since August 2021.
“This $1 billion drawdown will provide Ukraine with expanded air defense and precision-strike capabilities, as well as additional munitions and critical equipment that Ukraine is using so effectively to defend itself on the battlefield,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
Blinken said the U.S. is also announcing an additional $850 million of security assistance, bringing the total to an unprecedented $21.9 billion since the beginning of the administration.
Zelenskyy has repeatedly urged the U.S. and others to provide air defense systems that could help Ukraine deal with missile and drone attacks by Russian forces that have hit cities across the country and battered its infrastructure.
The senior administration official said Ukrainian forces will be trained on how to use the Patriot system in a third country, adding that the process “will take some time.”
“Ukrainian soldiers are the fastest I've ever seen at learning new technology. They'll do it somewhere in Germany, or Poland, I’m imagining,” said retired commanding general, United States Army Europe Ben Hodges in an interview with VOA Ukrainian.
The Patriot, designed to protect a limited area is “the best in the world for its purpose,” Hodges said, “to knock down cruise missiles, and advanced aircrafts” but is “not a silver bullet.”
No peace talks
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that new weapons deliveries to Ukraine would deepen the conflict, and that Russia sees no chance of peace talks with Ukraine.
A pessimistic message on peace prospects is also coming out of the White House. Moscow has shown no intention in engaging in serious negotiations and Biden will not push for Ukraine to negotiate an ending to the war Russia started, said the senior administration official.
The official said Biden will instead “work with Congress and with our allies to put Ukraine in the best possible position on the battlefield, so that when the time is right they are in the best possible position at the negotiating table.”
Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse and Reuters.
Iuliia Iarmolenko contributed to this report.