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On his visit to Washington, Zelensky tries to shore up critical support

WASHINGTON – The President Joe Biden said on Thursday to the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the United States will “stand with you” as it continues its bloody war with Russia, even as a growing faction of the Republican Party has threatened to curb aid that Zelensky says could cost his country the war.

On his second wartime visit to Washington, Zelensky visited the Capitol, the Pentagon and, finally, the White House, to ask for more weapons.

Along the way, he carried a grim warning.

During a meeting on Capitol Hill with dozens of senators, Zelensky said that Ukraine I would lose the war without the aid, according to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the majority leader.

At the White House, Biden said that the United States would begin sending the Abrams tankswhich the Ukrainians had been requesting for some time and which were part of an existing compromise.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and President Joe Biden walk along the colonnade of the White House in Washington, September 21, 2023. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

He also acknowledged that he had no choice but to rely on a bipartisan breakthrough to continue supporting Ukraine.

“I count on the good judgment of the United States Congress,” Biden said.

Zelensky’s visit came at a time when polls have shown a increasing tiredness about the war among the American public, and in which dozens of Republicans say they oppose Biden’s latest request to Congress for 24 billion dollars for additional aid to Ukraine.

Biden has pushed back against Republicans’ concerns, vowing that the United States – by far Ukraine’s biggest military financier among its Western allies – will stick with kyiv for the long term.

Zelensky said he also received guarantee of the president of the House of Representatives, the Republican Kevin McCarthythat the House will continue to support the Ukrainian war effort.

“He said they will be on our side – it’s not simple – that they will support,” he said during a meeting with American editors on Thursday night.

Congress has already approved 113 billion dollars in military, economic, humanitarian and other aid to Ukraine, including some $70 billion for security, intelligence and other war-fighting costs.

On Thursday, Biden unveiled a new military package, worth about $325 million from existing funding, that includes what officials called important air defense capabilities.

Zelensky hoped the Americans would provide him with a powerful weapon called the Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, which can hit targets 306 kilometers away with a warhead containing about 170 kilograms of explosives.

“We have to” have them, he said at the meeting with editors.

“Because we have no other way out.”

Jake Sullivannational security adviser, told reporters that Biden would not now provide the ATACMSbut that he had not removed it from the table.

To keep ammunition flowing for Ukraine’s offensive operations, the Pentagon will also send more guided artillery rockets and artillery shells.

Zelensky said Ukraine would not stop its counteroffensive this winter and hoped to take advantage of what he saw as Russian weaknesses.

“I am not the best military person in the world,” he said, but the Russian president Vladimir Putin he needed to “take a break because he really lost people, professional army, lost. They are dead.”

“We can’t stop during the winter,” he said.

“It’s difficult. But we have the experience of the previous year.”

He predicted that Ukrainian forces would retake – “occupy,” as he put it – Bakhmut and two more cities.

“I won’t tell you which cities, I’m sorry,” Zelensky told editors, saying the military had a “very complete plan“.

Washington has changed in the nine months since Zelensky was last here to deliver a joint address to Congress.

On that occasion, the vice president Kamala Harris and the then president of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi They brandished a Ukrainian flag signed by soldiers at the front. Biden, who had serious doubts about Zelensky’s longevity as leader at the beginning of the invasion, had begun greeting the Ukrainian leader like an old friend in his regular phone calls.

Biden secretly visited kyiv in February.

Republicans currently control the House of Representatives, which has recently become plunged into chaos because legislators do not seem willing to agree to approve a spending law that avoids a government shutdown.

And insurgent members threaten to strip McCarthy of his gavel.

In a show of bipartisan courtesy, Zelensky, dressed in a dark olive uniform, was escorted through the Capitol during his visit by Schumer and Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, minority leader.

“American support for Ukraine is not charity,” McConnell said in a statement.

“It is in our own direct interest, not least because demoting Russia helps deter China.”

McCarthy has been under pressure to take a tough line amid demands in his caucus for spending cuts, and in a closed-door meeting Thursday, Republican lawmakers asked Zelensky to address their concerns and provide his vision for a plan for victory.

Democrats asked him how they could convince their conservative colleagues that continuing to support the war was the right thing to do.

He said Zelenskyy had stressed that Europe and other countries look to the United States for leadership, and that a decision by Washington to reduce aid could undermine Europe’s commitment.

Zelensky later brought his wife, Olena, to the meeting at the White House.

The Zelenskys have attempted to establish personal relationships with Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden.

Olena Zelenska has spent much of her time in hiding since the start of the war, but she has written letters to the first lady, and the two met last year in Ukraine, when the first lady made a secret trip to the country.

“It’s good that our countries are truly allies,” Zelensky said, reading from letters as he sat next to Biden.

“I am in Washington to strengthen Ukraine’s position to defend our children, our families, our homes, freedom and democracy in the world.”

Zelensky also recounted his “frank and constructive dialogue” early Thursday with members of Congress from both parties.

He posted a photo of himself with House leaders and stressed that Ukraine is “sincerely grateful to the House, both parties and all the American people for all the support.”

c.2023 The New York Times Company

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