Ukraine's Zelensky plans to visit US, meet Biden, Congress

The US Senate has advanced a government-funding bill that includes $44.9 billion in emergency assistance to Kyiv and Nato allies

By Reuters

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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Published: Wed 21 Dec 2022, 8:07 AM

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could travel to Washington, meet President Joe Biden and visit the Congress on Wednesday, sources familiar with the matter said, in his first known overseas trip since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine crisis on February 24.

The two leaders were expected to meet at the White House, a source said. The visit by Zelensky would coincide with Biden's intent to send Patriot missiles to the Kyiv government, CNN reported, to protect it from heavy Russian bombardment.

CNN also reported, citing two sources, that Zelensky was already on his way to Washington.

The Ukrainian President's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. He had last left Ukraine for the Munich Security Conference on February 19, according to his official schedule.

His trip abroad after 10 months into the war was expected to include a visit to lawmakers at the US Capitol, a source familiar with the planning said on Tuesday.

The trip has not been confirmed, and security concerns could force a change in plans, the source said.

US House of Representatives' Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier on Tuesday, Pelosi said in a letter that there would be a session of Congress on Wednesday night which would have a "very special focus on democracy".

'Fortress Bakhmut'

Zelensky made a surprise trip to the eastern frontline city of Bakhmut — his office said on Tuesday — underlining Russia's stuttering but persistent attempts to capture it.

In his nightly video address, he referred to the visit as a trip to "Fortress Bakhmut" in Donetsk, a province that Russia claimed in September — a move which most countries reject.

Dressed in combat khakis, Zelensky handed out medals to soldiers in a tumble-down industrial complex to loud applause, video released by his office showed.

In contrast, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded medals inside the comfort of the Kremlin to the Russian-appointed leaders of four regions of Ukraine that Moscow has claimed to have annexed.

Video footage released earlier on Ukrinform TV, part of Ukraine's state news agency, showed servicemen in Bakhmut handing Zelensky a Ukrainian flag with their signatures on it.

"We will turn it over to the Congress and to the US president from the guys," Zelensky said in the video, without giving any further details.

"We are grateful for the support, but it's not enough," he added.

He has urged the troops to keep up their spirits, as the battle for Bakhmut — one that has come to symbolise the grinding brutality of the war — enters its fifth month.

"The East is holding out because Bakhmut is fighting. In fierce battles and at the cost of many lives, freedom is being defended here for all of us," Zelensky wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Call for aid

Zelensky has repeated calls to the West for more weaponry, including air defence systems, after Russian drones hit energy targets in a third strike on power facilities in six days.

Washington is close to finalising plans to send the Patriot missile defence system to Ukraine, according to sources, but the Kremlin has warned the US-supplied equipment would be a legitimate target for Russian strikes against Ukraine.

The US Senate has advanced a government-funding bill that includes $44.9 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine and NATO allies. The money would be used for military training, equipment, logistics and intelligence support, as well as for replenishing US equipment sent to the government in Kyiv.

The World Bank on Tuesday said it had approved an additional financing package totalling $610 million to address urgent relief and recovery needs in Ukraine.

Kyiv has argued that it needed Western help to strengthen its air defences, as Russian strikes have repeatedly cut electricity and water supplies amid sub-zero winter temperatures.

Ukrainian officials say Moscow's missiles and bombardment are aimed at breaking the will of civilians to resist.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that Ukrainians ought to prepare for new Russian attacks on energy infrastructure, because Moscow wanted them to spend Christmas and New Year in the darkness.

Electricity supplier YASNO, which covers the area of the capital Kyiv, offered no immediate respite for residents.

"We are not even counting on a return to scheduled disconnections," Sergey Kovalenko, YASNO chief executive, said in a Facebook post late on Tuesday.


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