Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will meet US leader Joe Biden and address Congress in Washington on Wednesday. A visit, the White House says, will send a strong message of Western unity to Russia.
The secretly arranged trip comes on the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to meet his senior military officials to assess the conflict in Ukraine and set goals for the next year, in what the Kremlin described as an “important, voluminous speech.” “ referred to.
The visit will “underscore the United States’ unwavering commitment to assisting Ukraine for as long as is needed,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
It is Zelenskyy’s first trip outside of Ukraine since Russian forces invaded in February, planning a swift takeover of Kiev and much of the country.
Instead, the visit to Washington comes on the 300th day of a war in which Russian forces were stopped by a stubborn Ukrainian army backed by Western weaponry, forced to withdraw from captured territory and struggling to avoid further setbacks.
“Heading to US to boost (Ukraine’s) resilience and defense capabilities,” Zelenskyy tweeted, also confirming that he would deliver a speech before Congress.
– Patriot missiles for Ukraine –
Zelenskyy is set to visit the White House, where Biden is set to announce a new weapons package worth nearly $2 billion that includes Patriot air-defense missiles, according to a senior administration official.
Patriot missiles are seen as crucial in helping Kyiv repel Russia’s devastating missile and drone attacks on its infrastructure.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that new arms shipments would lead to a “worsening of the conflict” and were “not a good sign for Ukraine”.
He added that Moscow does not expect Ukraine to change its stance on peace talks during the visit – including refusing to negotiate while Putin is in power.
Zelensky is also expected to speak at a joint session of Congress that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said would have “a very particular focus on democracy.”
The visit was quietly planned, beginning with a phone call between Biden and Zelensky on Dec. 11, followed by a formal invitation a week ago and confirmation of the visit on Sunday.
Details of the visit were leaked Tuesday afternoon, with officials telling US media that there were still security concerns over Zelenskyy’s trip.
In the White House talks, Biden and Zelenskyy will discuss weapons and training provided by the United States and allies, sanctions and other pressures on Russia, and the economic and humanitarian assistance Ukraine needs, the senior White House official said.
“They will discuss every element of this conflict, including the situation on the battlefield and including where the war is going from here,” the official said.
The visit will send Putin “a strong message of unity and determination from the White House, from Washington, from the free world, on behalf of all nations that support Ukraine,” the official added.
However, this does not include urging Zelenskyy to hold talks with Putin, the official stressed.
– Visit to the front –
Zelensky flies to the United States after a risky visit to the front lines in Bakhmut, where both sides have taken a heavy toll of constant shooting and grenades over the past two months.
Brutal trench warfare and artillery fire around Bakhmut – once known for its vineyards and salt mines – have leveled large parts of the city and its surroundings.
“Here in Donbas you protect the whole Ukraine,” Zelenskyy told the Ukrainian militants.
“This is not just Bakhmut, this is Bakhmut Fortress,” he said, presenting awards to Ukrainian soldiers.
Soldiers handed Zelenskyy a Ukrainian flag with their names on it and asked him to present it to Biden and the US Congress.
Zelensky said they told him: “We have a difficult situation, the enemy is increasing their numbers. Our boys are braver, but we need more guns.”
© Agence France-Presse