Biden and Zelensky to meet at White House and announce $2bn defence aid package for Ukraine

Ukrainian president is also set to address a joint session of the US Congress

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
Wednesday 21 December 2022 09:21 GMT
Watch live as Ukraine's president Zelensky addresses US Congress

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is on his way to Washington for talks with President Joe Biden at the White House, his first overseas trip 10 months after the start of an invasion by Russia that sought to topple his government.

The two presidents are set to announce a new $2bn defence assistance package, including the provision of Patriot missile batteries and training for the Ukrainian armed forces.

Mr Zelensky will also address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday evening. It will be his second visit to the American capital since taking office, and the first since the start of war 300 days ago. It will be his second address to the US legislature, though his prior appearance — which received a standing ovation from Republicans and Democrats alike — was a virtual one made in March during the earliest days of the Russian invasion.

According to a senior White House official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, Mr Zelensky’s trip to the US comes after an invitation extended by President Biden on 14 December. The official declined to share details of how Mr Zelensky will be getting to Washington and has so far not shared a timetable for his visit, but said the programme for his activities in the US capital will include an “extended sit-down” with Mr Biden, meetings with “key members” of the Biden administration’s cabinet and national security team, as well as a media availability at the White House and the address to Congress.

“In the meeting... President Biden will have the opportunity with President Zelensky to have an in depth strategic discussion on the way ahead on the battlefield, the capabilities and training that the US and our allies will continue to provide to Ukraine, on the sanctions and export controls that we have imposed and will continue to tighten and reinforce that have placed significant costs on Russia's economy and Russia's defence industrial base, and on the economic and energy sector assistance as well as the humanitarian assistance we're providing to make life better for the people of Ukraine,” the official said.

The senior White House official added that Mr Biden will use the opportunity of Mr Zelensky’s visit to “reinforce” to the American people the idea that US support for Ukraine 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”.

“We know that the days ahead, the conflict will continue, the winter will be hard, and we will continue — day in, day out — to provide critical support to the Ukrainian people,” the official said before noting that when Mr Biden appears with his Ukrainian counterpart, he will announce a “significant” new $2bn defence assistance package.

The new arms package will include one of the most advanced surface-to-air missile systems in the American arsenal, Raytheon’s MIM-104 Patriot. It is a mobile surface-to-air and anti-ballistic missile system that American forces first fielded in the early 1980s, and gained widespread recognition for its’ use during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The Patriot system has also been deployed by US allies across Europe and the Middle East, including by Israel, which in 2014 used a Patriot battery to down a Russian-built aircraft operated by the Syrian Air Force.

Mr Zelensky has spoken publicly about his desire for the US to provide Ukraine’s defence forces with the Patriot system, citing their superior “distance, radius of reflection, protection” over other surface-to-air weapons.

The White House official said the Patriot system will serve as a “critical asset to defend the Ukrainian people against Russia's barbaric attacks on Ukraine's critical infrastructure,” and added that US service members will train Ukrainian soldiers on the system’s capabilities and operations in an unspecified “third country”.

The official also said training Ukrainian forces on the Patriot’s operations will take “some time,” and stressed that the US will “continue to prioritize other forms of air defence support” in the interim, including the German-American NASAMS, the American HAWK, the Stinger man-portable surface-to-air missile, and other counter-drone equipment.

They further noted that Mr Zelensky’s visit will coincide with Congress’ approval of an additional $40bn in aid for Ukraine in the Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations legislation that is set for passage on Wednesday.

While some members of the incoming House Republican majority have suggested that America’s robust support for Ukraine’s defence could a sticking point in future spending negotiations with the Biden administration and the Democratic-controlled Senate next year, the official said the White House has been “confident all along” that US support for Kyiv will “remain broad, deep and bipartisan”.

“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 Zelensky at the joint session tomorrow demonstrates that as well. So this isn't about sending a message to a particular political party — this is about sending a message to Putin and sending a message to the world that America will be there for Ukraine for as long as it takes,” the official said.

“What tomorrow is about is an opportunity to reinforce to the American people that [thanks] chiefly to the bravery of the Ukrainian people — but also thanks to the support that the American people the American people have provided — Kyiv stands, Kharkiv stands, Kherson stands as proud Ukrainian cities that have resisted Russian conquest and that Ukraine … is standing proud and tall and pushing back against Russian aggression. And what we are doing to help support Ukraine is helping to secure these victories”.

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