President Joe Biden on Thursday said he has approved a new tranche of defence aid for Ukraine, including multiple air defence systems to protect Ukrainian infrastructure from Russian attacks during the coming winter months.
Speaking during an expanded bilateral meeting with Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky and his advisers in the East Room of the White House, Mr Biden said the new arms package would include artillery rounds and other ammunition, as well as anti-tank weapons. He also said the US would work to strengthen Ukraine’s air defence network with additional Mim-23 Hawk missile batteries and other missile systems, which he said are meant to protect “critical infrastructure that provides heat and light during the coldest and darkest days of the year” as well as “Ukraine's grain silos, hospitals, schools and power plants”.
He added that the US and partners would remain “committed to help Ukraine build a force capable of ensuring Ukraine's long-term security, capable of deterring future threats against sovereignty, territorial integrity and freedom, which are underway now”.
Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine last year, the US has provided more than $75bn (£61bn) in humanitarian, financial and defence assistance in conjunction with a broad range of allies and partners.
Mr Zelensky thanked Mr Biden for what he described as “a very powerful package” that contained “exactly what our soldiers need now”, as well as the broad support the US has provided since the war began 575 days ago.
He said the efforts to develop “the future force of Ukraine” would be “very important” and represented “a strategic decision” that would allow his country to prevent future aggression.
Just hours before in the Oval Office, Mr Zelensky said he felt “trust” between himself and top American officials and expressed gratitude for the defence support that has allowed his armed forces to “combat Russian terror” as he capped his day in Washington with a visit to the White House.
Mr Zelensky said he had thanked members of Congress during a Thursday morning visit to Capitol Hill, during which he took the opportunity to appeal for the United States to continue to support his country as some Republicans debated continued US support for Ukraine’s defence against Russia.
“Today I'm in Washington to strengthen our ability to defend Ukrainian children, our families, our homes, freedom and democracy in the world. I started my day in the US Congress to thank its members and the people of America for all the big, huge support. I felt trust between us and it allows us to have a frank and constructive dialogue,” he said, adding that he was “grateful” for the “trust and support” he received from members of both the House and Senate.
The Ukrainian leader also said he was looking to a discussion with Mr Biden regarding a new US defence package, “with a special emphasis on air”.
For his part, Mr Biden said the US and the American people “are determined to see to it, to do all we can, to ensure that the world stands with” Ukraine, and reiterated his remarks from earlier in the week when he told the UN General Assembly that “no nation can be truly secure in the world” if Ukraine’s freedom isn’t defended.
Mr Zelensky arrived at the White House at approximately 1530 local time [1930 GMT] Thursday, just hours after he visited Capitol Hill and attended an all-senators briefing to impress upon the upper chamber the importance of continued funding for his country’s efforts to repel a Russian invading force amid a long-awaited counteroffensive that has seen Ukraine reclaim previously Russian-occupied territory.
One Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, told The Independent that Mr Zelensky was “not asking us to spend money” but was instead urging senators to “lead the investments made for democracy and freedom around the world”.
“We still need a vote on basically supporting and investing in democracy. So I'm supporting whatever form we take,” he said.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell flanked the Ukrainian president as he walked into the briefing.
“At the risk of repeating myself, American support for Ukraine is not charity,” Mr McConnell said. “It’s an investment in our own direct interests – not least because degrading Russia’s military power helps to deter our primary strategic adversary, China.”
Similarly, Mr Zelensky met with members of the House of Representatives to discuss the war effort, even as many of that chamber’s Republican members have been advocating for an end to US support for his country.
“It was an honour and a privilege to be with him,” House minority whip Katherine Clark told The Independent. “And we expressed our deep commitment and gratitude not only to him for his leadership but to the Ukrainian people. And there was unanimity in that room.”
But the visit comes as the federal government is set to run out of money when the US fiscal year expires at midnight on 30 September. Many Republicans in the House oppose giving more aid to Ukraine and have vowed to vote against any bill to continue funding the government if it includes defence assistance for Kyiv.
“President Zelensky coming, that’s cool,” Rep Byron Donalds (R - Florida), a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, told reporters earlier in the week. “But I think the American people are sick and tired of their needs being neglected, while we take care of the rest of the world. And that's one of the reasons why you have members who have issues with Ukraine funding.”
Similarly, Punchbowl News and NBC News reported that House speaker Kevin McCarthy denied a request from Mr Zelensky to deliver a joint address to Congress. Meanwhile, CNN reported that Mr McCarthy avoided a public entrance with the Ukrainian president but took photos with Mr Zelensky and House minority leader Jeffries.
“I'm very concerned that they are not doing that,” Ms Clark said. “And it is opposed to the sentiment they express. America has to stand strong for freedom.”
Rep Michael McCaul (R - Texas), the chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, told reporters that in the meeting there was universal support for Ukraine.
“I just said, look, it's turning into a war of attrition,” he said. “And that's to Putin's advantage. And he wants to wear down the world, the American people and Europe, Nato.”
Mr McCaul told The Independent that aid to Ukraine would eventually pass with Republican support.
“I don’t think they all will,” he said. “But we’ll have the majority of the majorities.”
Rep Joe Wilson (R - South Carolina), a member of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, said Republicans needed to get behind Ukraine for the welfare of the larger world order, comparing it to how people were previously naive about Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
“We should learn from history and that is that there were many good people who thought that before September 1, 1939, that you could simply not be involved in Europe, and a perception that the tribes of Europe never stop fighting. But we've learned sadly, that the conflicts of Europe ultimately will affect America.”
Following his trip to the Capitol, Mr Zelensky travelled to the Pentagon for a meeting with secretary of defence Lloyd Austin and a wreath-laying at the Pentagon’s memorial to those who died in the 11 September, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Speaking to reporters at the daily White House press briefing ahead of Mr Zelensky’s sit-down with Mr Biden, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the president would use the Ukrainian leader’s visit to “emphasise the continued need for the American people to step up and support Ukraine as they battle on the frontlines of the free world”.
He told reporters that Mr Biden will announce a new arms package for Ukraine’s defence forces, including more of the cluster munitions that he authorised for Ukrainian use earlier this year.
“President Biden wants to use today to reaffirm his commitment, this administration’s commitment, this country’s commitment to continuing to lead the world in support of Ukraine for as long as it takes and that’s what he intends to do today,” he said.
Mr Sullivan also said he is confident that there will be bipartisan support for continuing to fund Ukraine’s defence when Congress agrees on a spending bill for the next fiscal year.
He added that Mr McCarthy has previously advocated and voted for bills including funds for Ukraine, and said briefings he has held with House and Senate leaders to be “incredibly constructive” and “deeply substantive”.
“The members had excellent questions. They also had a lot of constructive suggestions for how we most effectively pursue continued assistance to Ukraine and rally the world to help Ukraine defend its territory,” he said.
“So on the basis of those conversations, and further consultations we’ve had since then, I continue to remain of the view that when all is said and done, after all the back and forth and the to-ing and fro-ing and all the other elements going into these negotiations that have nothing to do with Ukraine, that there will be strong bipartisan support to continue funding Ukraine to the extent that we believe is necessary to get Ukraine what it needs”.