Several protesters and members of security forces wounded in clashes
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine delivered an emotional wartime appeal to a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday night, telling Americans that “your money is not charity” and vowing that his people would eventually secure an improbable victory against Russia on behalf of all free nations.
“Against all odds and doom-and-gloom scenarios, Ukraine did not fall,” Zelensky said in halting but forceful English from the dais in the House chamber, where he was greeted with extended applause from lawmakers.
“Ukraine is alive and kicking,” he said. “And it gives me good reason to share with you our first joint victory: We defeated Russia in the battle for minds of the world.”
In blunt terms, Zelensky pleaded for more military assistance from the lawmakers, who are poised to approve $45 billion in additional aid by the end of the week, bringing the total over a year to nearly $100 billion. His message: Your support has kept President Vladimir Putin of Russia from overrunning our country. Now keep it coming.
“We have artillery, yes, thank you,” he said. “We have it. Is it enough? Honestly, not really.” The money, he added, was not charity. “It’s an investment,” he said.
Zelensky’s visit to Washington — kept secret until the eve of his arrival for security reasons — was a dramatic show of confidence by Ukraine’s leader, who had not left his country since Putin began his assault 300 days ago.
Days before Christmas, Zelensky flew from the battered front lines of a country plunged into darkness by Russian air attacks to the marble-lined rooms of the White House and the Capitol, where he repeatedly thanked Americans for being partners in Ukraine’s battle to survive.
Dressed in his wartime uniform of an olive green sweater and cargo pants, Zelensky began his speech by insisting that the lengthy standing ovation was “too much for me.” He ended it just over 20 minutes later by delivering a blue and gold Ukrainian battle flag to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who in return handed him a framed American flag that had flown over the Capitol earlier in the day in honour of his visit.
The American flag in his right hand, Zelensky jabbed his left fist into the air triumphantly.
“We stand, we fight and we will win because we are united — Ukraine, America and the entire free world,” he said. “May God protect our brave troops and citizens. May God forever bless the United States of America. Merry Christmas and a happy, victorious New Year.”
His speech at the Capitol capped a remarkable day of urgent, personal diplomacy that began with more than two hours of closed-door meetings with President Joe Biden at the White House, where both men reaffirmed their determination to defend Ukraine against Russian forces, who invaded in February.
Standing side by side in the East Room with Ukraine’s flag hanging next to gleaming Christmas decorations, Biden and Zelensky faced reporters and pledged to continue fighting Russia’s invasion to force an end to Putin’s unwarranted aggression.
Zelensky warned that his country was digging in for a long, cold winter of war and had little hope of securing a just peace with the “terrorists” who are battering his people.
“The longer the war lasts, the longer this aggression lasts, there will be more parents who live for the sake of vengeance, or revenge,” Zelensky said through an interpreter, standing at a podium next to Biden.
“So there can’t be any just peace in the war that was imposed on us,” he added.
Biden pledged a united front with Zelensky, promising that “we will stay with you for as long as it takes.”
“The American people know that if we stand by in the face of such blatant attacks on liberty and democracy, and the core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the world would surely face worse consequences,” Biden said.
But both leaders sounded grim about the prospects for an end to the conflict anytime soon. Biden said it was critical to “stand together through 2023,” suggesting another year of war in the heart of Europe. Zelensky offered a dire assessment of the months ahead: “We need to survive this winter,” he said. “We need to protect our people.”
Zelensky is certain to get some, but not all, of what he wants before he heads home, barely 10 hours after arriving in Washington.
Biden on Wednesday announced delivery of a Patriot missile battery to help Ukraine defend against attacks from the sky, but the administration is still refusing longer-range weapons that could strike deep into Russia and potentially draw the United States into direct conflict with Putin and his military.
For Biden, the highly orchestrated visit is an opportunity to remind Americans why he has committed the United States’ Treasury — though not its soldiers — to defending the borders of a country a continent away. It is critical, he argues, to stand up for the rights of sovereign nations when international law is violated.
That decision has come with sacrifices and political cost for Biden, who rightly predicted before the war started that Americans would suffer economic consequences as the ramifications of the first war in Europe in decades rippled across the world. Gas and food prices spiked, helping to send inflation soaring in the United States and elsewhere.
Before their meeting on Wednesday, Zelensky presented Biden with a cross for military merit, an award that he said was given to him by a soldier on the front lines in Ukraine. The soldier, a captain, said Zelensky should give it to the “very brave president” who had saved many lives in their country.
“Undeserved, but much appreciated,” Biden replied in a moment that underscored how the two leaders are intertwined in the ongoing conflict.
But Biden and Zelensky must continue to build support among American voters and lawmakers, some of whom have begun to have doubts about the wisdom of an open-ended commitment to a conflict that shows no signs of ending.
– This article originally appeared in The New York Times
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