Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to US politicians on Thursday for continued support in the war with Russia amid Republican scepticism over whether Congress should approve a new round of aid for his country.
After seeking to shore up international support at the United Nations, Mr Zelenskiy came to Washington on a crosstown blitz that included meetings with military leaders at the Pentagon and a visit to the US Capitol in advance of an address at the National Archives museum.
Mr Zelenskiy arrived at the White House to meet President Joe Biden, who was set to announce a new $325 million military aid package for Ukraine.
While Mr Biden and most congressional leaders still support aid to Ukraine, and Mr Biden’s Democrats control the Senate, Mr Zelenskiy faced a tougher crowd than when he visited Washington nine months ago.
Mr Zelenskiy briefed the full US Senate in the Capitol’s historic Old Senate Chamber, receiving several standing ovations, according to a post on the platform X, formerly known as Twitter, by Senator Chris Murphy.
“We had great dialogue,” Mr Zelenskiy told reporters at the Capitol after the meeting.
Mr Zelenskiy told senators that military aid was crucial to Ukraine’s war effort, majority leader Chuck Schumer said in the Senate chamber after the briefing, which took place behind closed doors.
“If we don’t get the aid, we will lose the war,” Mr Schumer quoted Mr Zelenskiy as saying.
Mr Zelenskiy held discussions with US defence secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior Pentagon leaders. He visited the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial where he and his wife each placed a bouquet of flowers.
As Ukraine’s military counteroffensive grinds on and Congress stages a bitter debate over spending in advance of a possible government shutdown, a growing chorus of Republicans have questioned the billions of dollars Washington has sent Kyiv for military, economic and humanitarian needs.
“What is the point of cutting off support now when we’re at a turning point in the war?” said Mr Schumer, a Democrat, taking aim at Republican critics of the aid. “Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas when it comes to helping Ukraine.”
The US has sent some $113 billion in security and humanitarian aid to help Mr Zelenskiy’s government since Russia invaded in February 2022.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration was focused on making sure there was the necessary support and resources for Ukraine.
“I believe, based on my consultations on the Hill with both Republicans and Democrats, that there will be,” Mr Sullivan said on Thursday at a White House news briefing.
Mr Biden was set to announce a new military aid package for Ukraine including air defence systems and other weaponry to help Kyiv in advance of a tough winter, Mr Sullivan said.
The package was also expected to include the second tranche of cluster munitions fired by a 155 millimetre Howitzer cannon, according to a US official.
Biden administration officials held a classified briefing for Congress on Wednesday evening to push for an additional $24 billion, saying if Russian president Vladimir Putin was allowed to take control of Ukraine and pushed through to the border of Nato, the cost to the United States would be much higher.
But some Republicans were not convinced.
Republican Senator JD Vance said the United States “is being asked to fund an indefinite conflict with unlimited resources”.
“Enough is enough,” he said in a post on X, which included a letter dated Thursday to the director of the Office of Management and Budget questioning the aid and signed by Republicans from both houses of Congress.
Congress approved Ukraine assistance easily when both the Senate and House were controlled by Democrats. Mr Zelenskiy, who has become a powerful advocate for his country, was greeted as a hero when he addressed a joint meeting of Congress in December. - Reuters