Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in Washington DC on Thursday and faces one of his biggest battles to convince skeptical Republicans in the House of Representatives to continue approving US aid.
The leader will hold talks on Capitol Hill and with President Joe Biden after Poland’s shock announcement that it would freeze its weapons stockpile and as Russia steps down one of its boldest missile campaigns in weeks.
Congress has already approved more than $110 billion to Kiev since Vladimir Putin’s invasion, and some members of the Republican Party have warned the White House that they will resist Biden’s request to send another $24 billion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is welcomed to the Capitol by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries
Dispute between Ukraine and Poland linked to grain bans
Tensions between Ukraine and Poland, its neighbor and first ally, have risen over grain shipments.
Several European Union countries have previously banned Ukrainian grain to protect their own farmers.
Last week, the EU announced plans to suspend the ban. But three countries – Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – said they would keep it.
Ukraine protested and filed lawsuits against all three countries.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky mentioned the ban in his speech to the UN, saying: “It is alarming to see how some in Europe, some of our friends in Europe, are playing out solidarity in a political theater – and turning it into a thriller. ‘
He accused them of helping Moscow. Poland condemned the comments and summoned its ambassador from Ukraine.
The pressure is on the Ukrainian president, who will start his day on Capitol Hill, where he will meet the leaders of the House of Representatives and then senators in the Old Senate Chamber, a rare privilege for world leaders.
The entire Senate will be there to greet him.
He faces a cooler reception across the Capitol on the House side. Zelensky requested another joint speech to Congress, as he did last December, Punchbowl News reported, but Chairman Kevin McCarthy denied the request.
“Zelensky asked us for a joint session, but we just didn’t have time,” McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday morning.
Zelensky met with the speaker, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, and other committee chairs and ranking members on the first floor of the Capitol.
Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul said Zelensky told lawmakers he was “winning” the war.
And McCarthy said he remains non-committal on the $24 billion aid package, but said Zelensky has answered many questions from lawmakers about the status of the war.
Zelensky calls for support now that Ukraine’s neighbor Poland has announced that it will no longer supply weapons to Kiev.
“We will no longer transfer weapons to Ukraine because we are now arming Poland with more modern weapons,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.
Tensions between Warsaw and Kiev, sparked by Poland’s ban on Ukrainian grain imports to protect farmers’ interests, have increased in recent days.
Poland was one of Ukraine’s first and closest allies after Russia invaded. The country has hosted well over a million refugees and has been Kiev’s largest arms supplier.
In the US, Zelensky is appealing to Republicans in the House of Representatives, who have made it clear they oppose more funding for Ukraine.
McCarthy’s stopgap to keep the government running while lawmakers negotiate a full budget deal lacks any funding for Kiev.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is accompanied by US Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) at the Capitol
A framed flag, signed by Ukrainian fighters on the front lines in Bakhmut and presented to the US Congress in 2022, sits at one end of the table where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will meet privately with Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy and other leaders.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy has questioned US funding for Ukraine
And now 29 GOP lawmakers wrote to Biden’s budget chief to express concerns about how much has already been given to Ukraine – $100 billion – and to complain that the Biden administration supports an “open-ended commitment” to the country.
They argue that Americans need more information about the war effort.
McCarthy has made similar comments.
‘Was Zelensky elected to Congress? Is he our president? I do not think so. I have questions: Where is the responsibility for the money we have already spent? What is this the plan for victory?’ he told reporters on Capitol Hill.
The Biden administration continues to push for more funding. Zelensky concludes his visit to Washington with a meeting in the Oval Office.
Zelensky’s visit comes at a “critical time as Russia reaches out” to countries including North Korea and Iran, White House spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.
Biden could gain a “battlefield perspective” when he meets Zelensky in the Oval Office, Kirby noted.
Zelensky will also meet with President Joe Biden, who returned to Washington on Wednesday evening after meetings at the UN
Russian President Vladimir Putin has stepped up his attack on Ukraine
While Zelensky was out of the country, Russia stepped up its air campaign, damaging energy facilities and causing power outages in several regions.
Moscow targeted Lviv in the west, near the border with Poland, and Kharkiv, close to Ukraine’s eastern front lines, as well as Kiev, Cherkasy and Rivne.
Zelensky arrives in Washington after addressing the UN General Assembly as part of the body’s annual meeting.
He also addressed the UN Security Council, where he took a tough line, accusing it of inaction in the face of Russia’s invasion of his country.
“Most of the world recognizes the truth about this war,” Zelensky said.
“We must recognize that the UN is at an impasse on issues of aggression,” he noted.