Russian war: The significance of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to the US

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is on his way to the United States where he will address the US Capitol and meet his American counterpart Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday (21 December).

Taking to Twitter, Zelenskyy said he is visiting Washington to “strengthen resilience and defence capabilities” of Ukraine.

Confirming Zelenskyy’s highly sensitive trip, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said late Tuesday night in a statement, “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”.

This is Zelenskyy’s first known trip abroad since Russia invaded Ukraine in February this year.

What to expect from the Ukrainian president’s high-stakes visit to the US and why is it significant? What has Russia said? Let’s take a closer look.

What to expect from Zelenskyy’s US trip

Zelenskyy’s trip is aimed at reaffirming America’s support for Ukraine, notes The New York Times (NYT). 

Biden’s message to Zelenskyy when the two leaders meet will be that “we will stand with Ukraine as long as it takes”, a US official said, as per Sky News.

The US president will also announce $2 billion in security aid for Ukraine, which will include a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery and precision-guided bombs for fighter jets, a senior administration official told reporters.

Explained The significance of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyys visit to the US

Volodymyr Zelenskyy will meet US president Joe Biden. AP File Photo

The officials say Patriot missile battery would provide Ukraine with “far better defenses against air attacks from Russian missiles and drones”, reported NYT.

The US will also train Ukraine’s military to operate the Patriot in a third country.

The visit has come at a time when US lawmakers are set to vote on a year-end spending package that consists of nearly $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine. This would take the total amount of US aid to over $100 billion.

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Why is Zelenskyy’s visit significant?

Experts say the Ukrainian president’s visit to the US is important for a number of reasons, including the Republicans taking over the House of Representatives in the New Year.

“This is significant for multiple reasons. The war is at another inflection point. It’s at a fraught moment for Zelenskyy. The Ukrainians want to make sure that American support for the war continues as control of Congress is about to change from Democrats to Republicans in the weeks ahead. And it’s also an important moment because Ukraine is about to get $45 billion more promised for the next piece of fighting,” Aamer Madhani, a White House reporter for the Associated Press (AP), said.

Republicans, who will control the House from next year, are expected to pose greater resistance to US assistance to Ukraine.

GOP leader Kevin McCarthy has said his party will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine, as per AP.

The Atlantic writer Tom Nichols wrote for the magazine, “When the Ukrainian president speaks on Wednesday, he will be a symbol not only of one nation’s struggle against the Kremlin, but of the global fight for democracy. Unfortunately, it is a fight with multiple fronts—and that includes Capitol Hill”.

Zelenskyy’s trip will also strengthen the West’s support for Ukraine against Russia.

“A White House reception” for Zelenskyy will be an “unmistakable sign of US and Western support for Ukraine’s battle” against Russian president Vladimir Putin, as per Stephen Collinson, CNN’s White House reporter.

Democratic Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona has said that Zelenskyy was visiting Washington on a “specific mission”.

“What he is trying to do is draw a direct correlation between our support and the survival and support and future victory of Ukraine,” Gallego, a member of the Armed Services Committee, was quoted as saying by CNN.

Wesley Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, told CNN that the Ukrainian president’s trip has come at a period when the destiny of the war could be decided with the US’ help.

“This is a window of opportunity for Ukraine and a window of danger as well,” Clark said.

“Russia’s weak, (but) Russia will be stronger. This is a period where the United States needs to pour in the support. … This is the window, President Zelenskyy knows it – if he is going to defeat, with US support, the Russian aggression in Ukraine,” he added, as per CNN.

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Russia’s warning

Ahead of Zelenskyy’s visit, the Kremlin warned on Wednesday that ramping up the supply of US arms to Kyiv would aggravate the 10-month conflict with Ukraine.

Explained The significance of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyys visit to the US

Russia has warned against the supply of US arms to Kyiv. AP

“Weapon supplies (by the US) continue, the assortment of supplied weapons is expanding. All this, of course, leads to an aggravation of the conflict and, in fact, does not bode well for Ukraine,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by AP. 

Putin has also said today that Russia will continue developing its military capability and the combat readiness of nuclear forces.

“The armed forces and combat capabilities of our armed forces are increasing constantly and every day. And this process, of course, we will build up on,” the Russian president said during a televised meeting, as per AFP. 

Moscow will also “improve the combat readiness of our nuclear triad”, he added.

With inputs from agencies

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