Zelenskyy urges new Ukraine aid, as Biden warns funding delay helps Putin

Ukrainian president goes on diplomatic offensive in Washington, DC to try and win over sceptical right-wing Republicans.

President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shake hands in the Oval Office. There is a fire behind them and a display of orange flowers and greenery across the mantlepiece. They are smiling.
President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as they meet in the Oval Office [Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

US President Joe Biden has warned Russia was banking on the United States abandoning Ukraine as he promised visiting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy his full support and announced $200m in weaponry to help Kyiv push out Russian forces.

The White House said the security package could be “one of the last” if Republicans did not approve the new military aid plan, which includes about $61.4bn for Ukraine as well as support for Israel and which is currently stuck in Congress.

Biden said right-wing lawmakers’ refusal to approve the package also risked handing Russian President Vladimir Putin a “Christmas gift” of victory.

“Putin is banking on the United States failing to deliver for Ukraine,” Biden said during a press conference with Zelenskyy after talks at the White House. “We must … prove him wrong.”

Biden’s comments came as Zelenskyy went on the diplomatic offensive during his third visit to Washington, DC since Moscow began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

As well as meeting Biden, he aimed to appeal directly to Republican lawmakers, laying out the state of the war and Ukraine’s plans for victory in an effort to secure their support.

Republicans have sought to link the spending to new measures on the US-Mexico border but also appear to be increasingly questioning the war itself.

Zelenskyy stressed that supporting his country’s fight for its territorial integrity was about far more than Ukraine.

“For nearly two years, we’ve been in a full-scale war – the biggest since World War II, fighting for freedom,” Zelenskyy said. “No matter what Putin tries he hasn’t won any victories. Thanks to Ukraine’s success – success in defence – other European nations are safe from the Russian aggression.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walks through the Capitol. Mitch McConnell is on one side and Chuck Schumer on the other.
Zelenskyy addressed US lawmakers in a special meeting at the Capitol [Susan Walsh/AP Photo]

The Ukrainian president noted 600,000 troops were currently on the battlefield amid snow and freezing temperatures, and insisted there had been progress, notably against the Russian fleet in the Black Sea and establishing a new corridor for the safe export of Ukrainian grain.

He said the goal in 2024 was to “take away Russia’s air superiority”.

Following his more than one-hour meeting with lawmakers, he said that while the signals were “more than positive”, he would focus on action rather than words.

‘Absolutely insane’

Republicans, particularly those with the closest ties to former President Donald Trump, who is running again for election next year, appeared unmoved.

Some questioned whether additional aid would really help Ukraine achieve a breakthrough.

“I know everyone wants Ukraine to win. I just don’t see it in the cards,” said Republican Senator Ron Johnson.

“What the Biden administration seems to be asking for is billions of additional dollars with no appropriate oversight, no clear strategy to win and with none of the answers that I think the American people are owed,” said House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson.

Ahead of Zelenskyy’s meetings in the US, the Kremlin claimed that the aid already sent had failed to make a difference on the battlefield and that further US support would not be able to turn the tide.

Russia has stepped up drone and missile attacks on multiple regions of Ukraine, amid fears it will again target power infrastructure during the coldest months of the year, with troops engaged in intense battles on the front lines in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed since Russia invaded, with many Ukrainians fleeing overseas.

The US has said that while Russia appears to “believe that a military deadlock through the winter will drain Western support for Ukraine”, it has paid a heavy price for its invasion.

Some 315,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in Ukraine since the war began, according to a declassified US intelligence assessment shared with Congress, amounting to about 90 percent of the personnel it had in February 2022.

Ukraine has also inflicted heavy losses on Russia in recent fighting along the Avdiivka-Novopavlivka axis in the east — including 13,000 casualties and more than 220 combat vehicle losses, the report said.

Zelenskyy was asked whether Ukraine might be willing to give up some of its land as part of a peace deal.

He dismissed such suggestions.

“How can Ukraine simply give away its territory? This is absolutely insane,” the Ukrainian president said. “Let’s be honest… Our people live there… our children. It’s a part of our society. We’re talking about people who live there.”

Zelenskyy made his first visit to the US just days before Christmas a year ago. At that time, he received thunderous applause in Congress and many lawmakers wore Ukraine’s national colours of blue and yellow.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies