Zelenskyy to Meet With Biden, Address Congress, in ‘Surprise’ Visit to Washington
WASHINGTON — Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will meet with President Biden at the White House Wednesday afternoon before delivering a prime-time address to a joint session of Congress, White House officials announced Tuesday night.
“I’m glad to intrude on your evening with what I think is a pretty exciting piece of news,” a senior White House official told reporters on a conference call last night. “President Zelenskyy will be visiting Washington, D.C., tomorrow to engage here at the White House and then go up to Capitol Hill.
“In doing so, this visit will underscore the United States’ enduring commitment to Ukraine,” the official said.
Given the sensitivity of the Zelenskyy journey — his first outside of his country since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February — reporters were told the contents of the call would be embargoed “until further notice,” a rarity for press briefings.
In fact, it would be several hours later, shortly after 1 a.m., that the embargo was lifted and additional details made public.
“Three hundred days ago, Russia launched a brutal assault against Ukraine,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a written statement. “In response, President Biden rallied the world to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity. During the visit, President Biden will announce a significant new package of security assistance to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression.
“The visit will underscore the United States’ steadfast commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes, including through the provision of economic, humanitarian, and military assistance,” Jean-Pierre said.
A short time later, Zelenskyy himself took to Twitter to announce “On my way to the US to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities of UA. In particular, @POTUS and I will discuss cooperation between UA and US. I will also have a speech at the Congress and a number of bilateral meetings.”
During their meeting at the White House, Biden will announce the U.S. is sending a highly sophisticated Patriot missile battery to Ukraine that senior administration officials said would provide it with far better defenses against air attacks from Russian missiles and drones.
The missile battery will be part of a nearly $2 billion package of security assistance that will also include other ground-operated missile defenses — namely NASAMS, HAWKs and stinger missiles — as well as additional counter-UAV equipment and drones.
Biden’s announcement, with Zelenskyy by his side, is intended to send a clear message to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders that the U.S. will not waver in its support of the Ukrainian people, the senior White House official said.
“Russia expected that this war would be quick work, that they would be in Kyiv and dominating the country within a matter of days,” the official continued.
“But here we are 300 days later, and Ukraine stands, Kyiv stands, the Ukrainian people stand. And Ukraine, in fact, has been pushing back against Russian aggression, reclaiming territory over the course of the past several weeks and months.
“Of course, in response to that, Russia has begun a barbaric campaign of attacking Ukraine’s critical infrastructure — purposely destroying power, heat, and electricity — in an attempt to break the will of the Ukrainian people and cause human suffering. But Ukraine’s government and its people remain unbreakable, and they’ve inspired the world with their resilience.
“It’s been simply remarkable to watch how Ukraine, aided by U.S. support and the support of our allies and partners, has bravely defended its country, repelled Russian attacks, and retaken a significant amount of their territory,” he continued.
“And President Biden will have the opportunity to reinforce that this support is not just about what we have done before, but what we will do today and what we will continue to do for as long as it takes,” the official said.
After he and Biden meet for what the White House has described as an “extended” bilateral meeting, both leaders will participate in a press conference in the East Room of the White House.
From there, Zelenskyy will head to Capitol Hill, where Congress is considering approving nearly $50 billion in aid to help Ukraine continue to fight off Russia’s aggression next year.
If approved, it would bring the total amount of American aid for Ukraine’s war effort to more than $100 billion.
A number of Republicans, who will take control of the House on Jan. 3, oppose the additional spending on Ukraine, and in fact plan to vote against the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package that includes the next tranche of aid.
Asked about the timing of Zelenskyy’s visit, vis-a-vis the new Congress, the senior administration official said he expects the additional aid will be approved in a bipartisan manner.
“I’ve said before and I’ll reiterate here, as many others here at the White House have, that we have been confident all along that despite some rumors and suggestions to the contrary, support for Ukraine would remain broad, deep, and bipartisan,” he said. “ I think the vote that you will see on this substantial aid package demonstrates that, and I think the support you will see for President Zelenskyy at the joint session tomorrow will demonstrate that as well.
‘This isn’t about sending a message to a particular political party,” he continued. “This is about sending a message to Putin and sending a message to the world that America will be there for Ukraine.
“And President Putin badly miscalculated the beginning of this conflict when he presumed that the Ukrainian people would yield and that NATO would be disunited. He was wrong on both those counts; he remains wrong about our staying power. And that’s what this visit will demonstrate,” the official said.
Despite it coming as something of a Christmas surprise, Zelenskyy’s visit has been in the works since Dec. 11, when Biden and the Ukraine president discussed the possibility during a secure phone call.
Four days later, the White House extended a formal invitation for Zelenskyy to visit today.
“In doing so, we indicated that we wanted to host him for a program here at the White House that would involve an extended sit-down with President Biden, a meeting with key members of President Biden’s national security team and Cabinet, an opportunity to address the press, and then an opportunity to go up to Capitol Hill to do a joint session of Congress,” the senior administration official said.
Zelenskyy accepted the invitation last Friday, and the details of the White House portion of his trip were confirmed on Sunday.
It was only then that the White House engaged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, notifying her of Zelenskyy’s visit and coordinating the joint session.
Such was the level of secrecy, that Pelosi didn’t even mention who was coming when she issued a call “encouraging all members to be physically present at our session Wednesday night.
“We are ending a very special session of the 117th Congress with legislation that makes progress for the American people as well as support for our democracy,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to her colleagues. “Please be present for a very special focus on democracy Wednesday night.”