Zelenskiy urges the US Congress to help Ukraine turn the corner in war

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(Bloomberg) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pressed the US Congress for tanks, planes and more money to help repel Russia’s invasion, portraying the war as a battle of democracy against tyranny as he sought to win support from some skeptical Republican lawmakers.

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In his first trip abroad since President Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded Feb. 24, Zelenskiy told a joint meeting of Congress Wednesday evening that US support had been crucial so far and predicted the year ahead will turn the tide in the war. He demanded more sanctions and that the Russians responsible for the war’s outcome be held accountable.

“Your support is crucial, not just to stand in such a fight, but to get to the turning point to win on the battlefield,” Zelenskiy said in a 27-minute speech that was repeatedly punctuated by standing ovations by lawmakers from both parties. “Your money is not charity, it’s investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”

After Zelenskiy and President Joe Biden met at the White House, the speech was addressed to ordinary Americans around the US as well as the legislators who were there. It was loud and boisterous, fitting the wide bipartisan support Zelenskiy received. However, Republicans, who will be taking control of the House of Representatives in the next month, promise tougher scrutiny of Ukraine’s aid.

The applause was tepid from some Republicans who are opposed to more aid, such as Representatives Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert, while others clapped but didn’t join the frequent standing ovations that punctuated the remarks.

As a sign of America’s support, the Biden administration announced $1.85 billion in additional military aid to Ukraine on Wednesday, including a Patriot missile battery to help the country bolster its defenses. At the White House, Biden told Zelenskiy the American people were with him “every step of the way,” and “we will stay with you for as long as it takes.”

That Zelenskiy made the visit — conducted under heavy security and requiring a train journey to Poland to avoid flying in Ukrainian airspace and risk being shot down — underscores the increasing urgency to secure more weapons and money to fund the conflict. He said he had laid out to Biden a ten-point peace initiative, though he didn’t give further details.

“If your Patriots stop the Russian terror against our cities, it will let Ukrainian patriots work to the full to defend our freedom,” Zelenskiy told lawmakers, in reference to the high-tech air defense system Biden promised to send him.

He said Ukraine has artillery and shells but said: “Is it enough? Honestly, not really,” adding, “I assure you that Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks and planes for themselves.” It was a rebuttal to US officials who have argued that some advanced weapons would require too much training.

Early reactions to the speech were favorable. Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a prominent Republican supporter for Ukraine, stated that it would help Zelenskiy with his search for fighter jets or tanks. Portman, who’s retiring from Congress, said he’s confident the House will provide more aid next year as long as accountability is in place for the funds.

“I thought he did a beautiful job, laying out in very stark terms what the stakes are,” Portman said of Zelenskiy. “He was also in his own way saying, ‘Give us some more help and we can achieve victory.’”

With the help of NATO members, the US and other allies, Ukraine has repeatedly defeated Moscow on the battlefield and driven troops from territories that were first taken by tanks as they rolled towards Kyiv. Russia is now regrouping and pursuing civilian and energy infrastructure, leaving millions without heat or power in winter. Zelenskiy has repeatedly demanded more weapons than he’s been given so far.

In an effort to find more funding and equipment, he used his speech to describe the fight against Russia as a defense for democracy and state sovereignty.

“This struggle will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live in,” he told US lawmakers, addressing them in English, dressed in his familiar olive-green sweatshirt and cargo pants. “It will define whether it will be a democracy for Americans, for Ukrainians, for all.”

At the end of the speech, Zelenskiy turned and gave Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a Ukrainian flag signed by soldiers he’d met a day ago on the front lines. Pelosi presented Zelenskiy with a folded US flag, which had been flown Wednesday over the US Capitol in honor of his nation.

Before Zelenskiy touched down in Washington, Putin vowed that there would be “no limitations” on military spending for the war. Russia’s defense minister stated that Russia will increase its army by 25% to 1.5 million soldiers as it pursues its military goals in Ukraine.

Zelenskiy thanked allies and sometimes criticized leaders for not being willing to arm the Ukrainians he claims are fighting Russia.

“It was a call to action,” Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, told reporters. “There are going to be a few people who are not going to support aid just like there always are, but the majority of members on both sides of the aisle will be very supportive.”

With the assistance of Roxana Tiron and Erik Wasson

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©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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