Three hundred days after his country was invaded by Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky flew to Washington, D.C., for talks on what might happen in the next 300 days.
Kept under wraps until the last minute, the historic visit was rife with symbolism, from Zelensky’s drab sweatshirt to President Joe Biden’s blue-and-yellow-striped tie to Ukraine’s unfolding on the House floor. battle flag.
But the trip was about much more than symbolism. Biden wouldn’t invite Zelensky to Washington — or endure his first adventure trip outside Ukraine since the war began — if he didn’t believe that real achievements could be achieved in person rather than by phone.
After the conversation, both men made it clear that they saw the war entering a new phase. Fears of a stalemate have grown as Russia sends more troops to the frontline and launches brutal airstrikes on civilian targets.
However, with Zelensky leaving Washington for a long and equally dangerous trip to Ukraine, it is unclear whether the path to ending the conflict is clearer.
Picture: Zelensky visited the United States during the war
Figuring out where Zelensky stands on ending the war is one of the perks of bringing him to the White House. The Ukrainian leader has previously expressed a desire for a “just peace” to end the conflict – something U.S. officials said would be central to their talks on Wednesday.
But on Wednesday, Zelensky used belligerent rhetoric to suggest such a peace was not far off, saying the path to ending the war would not involve concessions to Russia.
“As president, to me a ‘just peace’ is not a compromise,” he said, saying he did not see any path to peace involving Ukraine giving up territory or sovereignty.
Later, in a speech to Congress, Zelensky said he had offered Biden a 10-point peace package — although U.S. officials said afterwards it was the same as what he told the world at the G-20 summit last month. The same plan was proposed by others.
Among Western countries that have united behind Zelensky, there have been concerns about what Zelensky’s long-term plans might be.
For his part, Biden said it was a long-held view that Zelensky “decides how he wants the war to end,” but many questions remained unanswered.
Watch Zelensky’s historic speech to Congress
Zelensky made numerous references to American history in his remarks to lawmakers, from the pivotal Battle of Saratoga during the American Revolutionary War to the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
He delivered the speech in English, a purposeful choice he had telegraphed ahead of the speech. Even his attire — the now-familiar army green shirt, overalls and boots — seemed designed to remind his audience that they were in the presence of wartime leaders.
Over the course of the conflict, Zelensky demonstrated a keen ability to engage audiences, whether they were national legislatures or Grammys audiences.
On Wednesday, he tried to tap into the emotional American reaction to his country’s suffering to evoke dark winter nights when Russia tried to disrupt Ukraine’s electricity supply.
“We’ll be celebrating Christmas in two days. Candlelight maybe. Not because it’s more romantic, no, but because there won’t be — there won’t be electricity,” he said.
But he also seems aware that many Americans — including some Republicans in Congress — have loudly questioned why billions of dollars are needed for a conflict thousands of miles away. He sought to make the cause not confined to his own country.
“This fight is not just for the life, liberty and security of Ukrainians or any other country that Russia is trying to conquer,” he said. “This struggle will determine the kind of world our children and grandchildren will live in.”
He added, “Your money is not charity. It is an investment in global security and democracy that we handle most responsibly.”
Watch Zelensky unfurl the flag in historic speech to Congress
At the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Zelensky rejected a U.S. offer to evacuate him from Kyiv.
“I need ammo, not a free ride,” Zelensky told America.
Ten months later, he got two. When Zelensky landed on a U.S. military plane outside Washington on Wednesday, his arrival capped a 10-day sprint by U.S. and Ukrainian officials who had arranged a risky wartime visit aimed at rallying support for Ukraine’s continued Resist the Russian invasion.
Just before Zelensky’s arrival, the Biden administration announced that it would provide Ukraine with nearly $2 billion in additional security assistance — including the advanced new Patriot air defense system that Zelensky had been demanding for months.
Weighing the visit, Zelensky suggested to advisers that he did not want to travel to Washington without significant progress in bilateral relations with the United States, according to people familiar with the matter. Zelensky sees the U.S. decision to send the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine as a major shift in the relationship between the two allies.
And yet on Biden’s side, he said frankly that he doesn’t think a single Patriot system is enough.
“We want more patriots,” Biden said with a laugh. “Sorry, we are at war.”
‘This is Vladimir Putin’s worst nightmare’: Tapper reacts to Zelensky speech
Speaking before Congress later, Zelensky was again blunt about his disbelief that U.S. support would be enough.
“Is it enough? Honestly, not really,” he said of the artillery the U.S. has provided so far.
Zelensky’s candid plea for more patriots — and Biden’s lighthearted response — amount to a window into one of the world’s most complicated relationships.
On the surface, Biden and Zelensky maintain a firm partnership. From the Oval Office to the East Room to Capitol Hill, Zelensky was full of praise for Biden.
Yet it’s not hard to see the tension beneath the surface. While Biden has provided tens of billions of dollars in military aid to his country, Zelensky has been agitating the United States for more support.
That’s not always comfortable with Biden or his team. But as he has done with many other foreign leaders, Biden on Wednesday seemed intent on translating physical proximity into a better understanding of his opponent.
“It’s all about looking someone in the eye. And I mean that sincerely. I don’t think there’s a substitute for sitting down with a friend or foe face to face and looking them in the eye,” he said.
Hear Zelensky’s message to Americans in the Oval Office
Biden invited Zelensky to Washington this week because he believed the war in Ukraine was entering a “new phase,” officials said ahead of the trip. As winter approaches and Russia continues to target civilian infrastructure, Zelensky’s public appeal for continued international support appears ripe.
However, the new phase doesn’t just appear on the battlefield. Around the world, leaders are grappling with the painful aftermath of the Russian invasion. Rising energy and food prices, in part because of tough sanctions on Moscow, have created problems for politicians in Europe and the United States.
In Washington, Republicans poised to take control of Congress have made clear they won’t rubber-stamp every Biden request for Ukraine aid — though fears that funding will dry up entirely appear unfounded. Congress is about to approve nearly $50 billion in additional security and economic aid.
Zelensky, speaking to lawmakers, repeatedly referred to members of “bipartisanship” in an attempt to characterize his cause as bipartisan.
Still, some Republicans refused to attend Zelensky’s address to Congress in protest of their claim that dollars are flowing unfettered out of the United States.
It was against this backdrop that Biden insisted that U.S. support would last for months.
He said, “Mr. President, it is important for the American people and the world to hear directly from you. President, on the struggle in Ukraine and the need for continued unity through 2023.”
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