Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has delivered a defiant wartime message in Washington, DC, in which he thanked US leaders and “ordinary Americans” for supporting his country’s fight against Russia and reminded them that military assistance to Ukraine was not “charity” but an “investment” in a democratic world.
Invoking memories of the United States’s victory over Nazi Germany in a key World War II battle, Zelenskyy also said there could be “no compromises” in trying to bring an end to Russia’s war on his country.
In his first trip outside of Ukraine since the war began in February, Zelenskyy told a joint session of the US Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday that he hoped they would continue to support his country’s war effort on a bipartisan basis.
“Your money is not charity,” Zelenskyy said in English, clad in his customary khaki fatigues.
“It is an investment in the global security and democracy,” he said.
His bi-partisan appeal comes as Republicans are due to take the majority in the US House in January and when some in the party have voiced concern over the soaring levels of assistance sent to Kyiv.
The US has so far sent about $50bn in assistance to Kyiv, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken announcing another $1.85bn in military aid on Wednesday, including the Patriot air defence system. The Patriot missile system is deemed to be one of the most advanced US air defence systems, offering protection against attacking aircraft as well as cruise and ballistic missiles.
Zelenskyy’s arrival was greeted with multiple raucous ovations in the House’s nearly full chamber where members of Congress held up a large Ukrainian flag as he walked in. Most stood, cheered, applauded and many shook Zelenskyy’s hand as he entered, with several wearing the colours of the Ukrainian flag, blue and yellow.
“It is a great honour for me to be at the US Congress and speak to you and all Americans. Against all doom and gloom scenarios, Ukraine did not fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking,” he said.
“We defeated Russia in the battle for the minds of the world,” he added.
Referencing former US President Franklin D Roosevelt, who served between 1933 and 1945, Zelenskky reminded his audience of the hardships faced by US forces who fought to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation during World War II.
“Just like the brave American soldiers, which held their lines and fought back Hitler’s forces during the Christmas of 1944, brave Ukrainian soldiers are doing the same to Putin’s forces this Christmas,” he said.
The Ukrainian leader was referring to the Battle of the Bulge, which began in December 1944, and was Hitler’s final significant attempt to push back the Allied forces. Poor weather hampered initial US efforts to halt the offensive, which lead to many fatalities and threatened to divide the allies – who ultimately prevailed.
In a tweet, Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s victory over Russia “will also be America’s victory”.
I thank @POTUS for the warm welcome and I deeply appreciate all the support of the U.S. and the American people. I am confident that together we will be able to secure a better, prosperous and free future for both of our nations. Ukraine’s victory will also be America’s victory. pic.twitter.com/OhclRtwIJy
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) December 22, 2022
US President Joe Biden welcomed Zelenskyy to the Oval Office earlier on Wednesday, saying the US and Ukraine would continue to project a “united defence” as Russia wages a “brutal assault on Ukraine’s right to exist as a nation”.
Zelenskyy said his visit demonstrated that the “situation is under control, because of your support”.
Pressed on how Ukraine would try to bring an end to the conflict, Zelenskyy rejected Biden’s framing of a “just peace”, saying: “For me as a president, ‘just peace’ is no compromises”.
He said the war would end once Ukraine’s sovereignty, freedom and territorial integrity were restored and it received “payback for all the damages inflicted by Russian aggression”.
“There can’t be any ‘just peace’ in the war that was imposed on us,” he added.
The highly sensitive trip takes place after 10 months of a brutal war that has seen tens of thousands of casualties on both sides and devastation for Ukrainian civilians and their cities, towns and villages.
Zelenskyy’s visit is designed to reinvigorate support for his country in the US and around the world, amid concerns that allies are growing weary of the costly war and its disruption to global food and energy supplies.
Biden said Russia is “trying to use winter as a weapon but Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world”.
In a joint news conference, Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin has “no intention of stopping this cruel war”.
The two leaders appeared to share a warm rapport, laughing at each other’s comments and patting each other on the back throughout the visit, though Zelenskyy made clear he will continue to press Biden and other Western leaders for more military support.
He said that after the Patriot system was up and running, “we will send another signal to President Biden that we would like to get more Patriots”.
“We are in the war,” Zelenskyy added with a smile, as Biden chuckled at the direct request from the Ukrainian leader.
Biden said it is “important for the American people, and for the world, to hear directly from you, Mr President, about Ukraine’s fight, and the need to continue to stand together through 2023″.
Zelenskyy’s arrival in the US comes just days after he made a daring and dangerous trip to what he called the hottest spot on the 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) front line of the war – the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk region.
Arriving there on Tuesday, Zelenskyy praised Ukrainian troops for their “courage, resilience and strength” as artillery boomed in the background.
Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Kyiv-based Penta Center think-tank, said Zelenskyy’s US visit “should determine the course of the war – Zelenskyy for the first time dared to leave Ukraine and is counting on being able to maintain, and possibly even strengthen, US military and economic assistance”.
Putin on Wednesday told his country’s military leaders that Russia will achieve its stated goals in Ukraine and use the combat experience to strengthen its military. His defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said Russia’s military must be expanded from the current 1 million to 1.5 million for the fight in Ukraine.
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