Biden to meet with Zelenskiy in last attempt to save US aid to Ukraine

The Ukrainian president will speak with the president and members of Congress on Tuesday in a bid to secure funding that is in danger due to Republican misgivings

Volodímir Zelenski
The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during his visit to Washington, on Monday.JULIA NIKHINSON (REUTERS)
Macarena Vidal Liy

Russia “must lose” the war in Ukraine. That was the message Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy repeated on Monday, in a speech at the National Defense University, the Pentagon’s higher education center. It’s the core idea that Zelenskiy has been trying to transmit on his 36-hour trip to Washington, where he has been meeting with military, political and economic authorities. He will also meet with U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday. His goal is to try to convince Washington of the urgent need to provide economic and military assistance to Ukraine before Congress takes its holiday recess on Friday.

“We won’t give up. We know what to do and you can count on Ukraine. And we hope just as much to be able to count on you,” Zelenskiy said in his address to the National Defense University, where U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, was also present. The Ukrainian leader — dressed in a characteristic khaki sweater with the message “I’m Ukrainian” — was met by applause. He said that while Russian President Vladimir Putin was at war with Ukraine, his real goal was “the freedom that people have from Warsaw to Chicago to Yokohama.”

For Zelenskiy and Biden — who insists that the United States remains firm in its “unshakable” commitment to provide assistance to Kyiv — there is a lot at stake. And very little time. Both leaders have launched a last-minute campaign to rescue aid to Ukraine before the holiday break.

Biden has asked Congress to approve $61.5 billion to help Ukraine repel the Russian invasion. This aid is part of a nearly $106 billion package that also includes funding for Israel, Taiwan and the border with Mexico. But last week, Republican Senators blocked the proposal.

In exchange for supporting the aid package, Republicans want the Democrats to approve immigration reform that will toughen border control and the conditions for requesting asylum. Both parties are negotiating around the clock to try to reach a last-minute agreement. But a deal seems almost impossible: barring any surprise, Congress will close for the holidays on Friday and not reconvene until next year. By then, the funds available to support Ukraine militarily will have completely run out, according to the U.S. government.

In January, the U.S. government could resort to other bureaucratic mechanisms to restore at least part of its aid to Ukraine. But the pause will disrupt supplies. And given the harshness of winter, the limitations on Ukrainian forces and the fact that Russia is redoubling its offensive, that could prove fatal to Kyiv’s chances of stopping the invasion. The White House insists that waiting is not an option.

“Putin still believes that he can outlast Ukraine, and that he can outlast America,” said Austin in his address to National Defense University on Monday. “If we do not deter other would-be aggressors, we will only invite more aggression, more bloodshed and more chaos,” he said, warning that Putin would look to attack countries beyond Ukraine.

Zelenskiy repeated this warning: “Ukraine is just a stepping stone for Russia, a way to act like that old empire that died in 1989, and to challenge the lead of freedom wherever the Russian tsar likes.”

The Ukrainian president has a packed agenda. In addition to speaking with the U.S. military, he also met with the director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, on Monday. On Tuesday, he will participate in a closed-door session with senators in Congress, which will be followed by a private meeting with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson.

Republican lawmakers — especially in the House of Representatives, where they hold a slim majority — believe the United States has delivered more than enough aid to the invaded country; that there is not enough transparency on how these funds have been used, and that this money would be better spent on other causes within the United States.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion in February 2022, U.S. Congress has approved more than $100 billion in aid to Ukraine. But it has not approved new funding since the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives in January. As the White House warned last week, the Pentagon had used 97% of the $62.3 billion it had in assistance for Ukraine by mid-November, and the State Department had exhausted its $4.7 billion.

The skepticism of lawmakers is increasingly spreading among voters. A University of Michigan poll for the Financial Times found that 48% of voters believed the United States has already spent “too much” on aid to support Kyiv’s war effort against Russia, while 27% responded that an “adequate amount” has been invested. Only 11% believed that the U.S. had not provided enough aid. Republican voters were the least supportive of aid to Ukraine: 65% said that the United States has already spent too much on the country, compared to 52% of independent voters and 32% of Democrats.

“This is a time to really step up because if we don’t, we know what happens. Putin will be able to move forward with impunity and we know he won’t stop in Ukraine,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday in a series of televised interviews.

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