Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed that his nation will defeat Russia “against all odds” as top US officials said failure to approve more aid for Kyiv would make Washington responsible for its defeat and open a global “Pandora’s box of aggression”.
Mr Zelenskiy was expected to address an online meeting of leaders of G7 states on Wednesday, a day after the sudden cancellation of his planned briefing via video link to members of the US Congress, where right-wing Republicans are blocking a White House request for about $60 billion (€55.6 billion) in additional funding for Ukraine.
Speaking on Wednesday night, US president Joe Biden urged Congress to approve the additional aid. “Petty, partisan, angry politics can’t get in the way of our responsibility as a leading nation in the world. And literally, the entire world is watching,” he said.
Some accounts of the meeting that Mr Zelenskiy was expected to address suggest it descended into a slanging match over Republican demands that aid for Ukraine and Israel be tied to more spending on US border security. Ukrainian and US officials said Mr Zelenskiy had been unable to attend due to an unexpected change of his plans.
“It’s not easy now, but we are progressing. No matter how difficult it may be, we will get there. To our borders, to our people. To our peace. A just peace. A free peace. Against all odds,” Mr Zelenskiy said in a video that he appeared to film on his phone in central Kyiv as he walked to a memorial to fallen soldiers on the day Ukraine honours its armed forces.
Celebrating Ukraine’s continued independence, he recalled the start of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion in February 2022 – when Kyiv faced possible occupation – and used terms that Russia used for parts of its empire and referred to its current president, Vladimir Putin.
“Now I am walking through the capital of our beautiful country, not someone’s guberniya within someone’s empire. I’m walking from the office of the president of Ukraine, not of someone else’s gauleiter. Ahead of us is European Square, where our blue and yellow flags fly, not [Russian] tricolours. Ahead is St Volodymyr’s Hill, in honour of our great prince, not their little tsar,” Mr Zelenskiy said.
Several of his senior officials are now in Washington, where US secretary of state Antony Blinken said “we need to ensure that Russia continues to fail in its aggression against Ukraine. If we don’t, we know that if Putin is allowed to proceed with impunity, that is going to open a Pandora’s box of aggression around the world.
“Other would-be aggressors will look, they’ll learn, they’ll listen, they’ll take lessons from this… In this business, an ounce of prevention really is much better than 10 pounds of cure later on,” he added.
US treasury secretary Janet Yellen said continued financial support was “utterly essential” to stabilise Ukraine’s economy and allow it to access more aid from the International Monetary Fund.
Ms Yellen said she had discussed the “dire situation” with members of Congress and warned that “we can hold ourselves responsible for Ukraine’s defeat if we don’t manage to get this funding to Ukraine”.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting continued in eastern Ukraine, and the country’s military said it shot down 41 of 48 attack drones launched by Russia early on Wednesday.