© Reuters. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits Ukrainian service members at their position in the frontline town of Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine December 20, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via RE
By Tom Balmforth, Pavel Polityuk and Steve Holland
KYIV/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy headed to Washington on Wednesday to meet President Joe Biden, address Congress and seek “weapons, weapons and more weapons” in his first overseas trip since Russia invaded Ukraine 300 days ago.
Zelenskiy said the visit was meant to strengthen Ukraine’s “resilience and defence capabilities” amid repeated Russian missile and drone attacks on the country’s energy and water supplies in the dead of winter.
His political adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said the visit showed the high degree of trust between the two countries and offered him the opportunity to explain what weapons Kyiv needs.
“This finally puts an end to the attempts by the Russian side … to prove an allegedly growing cooling in our bilateral relations,” Podolyak told Reuters.
“This, of course, is not even close. The United States unequivocally supports Ukraine.”
Biden will announce nearly $2 billion in further military assistance for Ukraine that will include a Patriot missile battery to help it defend itself against barrages of Russian missiles, a senior U.S. official said.
“…Weapons, weapons and more weapons. It is important to personally explain why we need certain types of weapons,” Podolyak said. “In particular, armoured vehicles, the latest missile defence systems and long-range missiles.”
Zelenskiy’s visit was expected to last several hours.
He will hold a meeting with Biden at the White House at 2:30 p.m. (1930 GMT), participate in a joint news conference with the U.S. president and then go to Capitol Hill to address a joint session of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
White House spokesman John Kirby (NYSE:) said diplomacy and defence capabilities would top the agenda.
“Clearly we’re going to make sure that President Zelenskiy, when he leaves this country, knows that he’s leaving with the full support of the United States going forward,” he told MSNBC in an interview ahead of Zelenskiy’s arrival.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was defiant on Wednesday at an end-of-year meeting of top defence chiefs, saying Russian forces were fighting like heroes in Ukraine, would be equipped with modern weapons and would achieve all Moscow’s goals.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 aiming to capture the capital Kyiv in days, a goal that quickly proved out of reach.
Moscow then focused on advancing along eastern and southern fronts but has suffered a series of battlefield defeats since the summer and on Tuesday Putin conceded that conditions in Russian-held areas were “highly complicated”.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Putin said there were no financial limits on what the government would provide in terms of equipment and hardware, and the army had to learn from and fix the problems it had suffered in Ukraine.
Putin also said he still considered Ukrainians – who have been killed in their tens of thousands, forced to flee in their millions, and seen whole towns and cities destroyed – to be a “brotherly” people.
Putin blamed the war on “third countries (seeking) the disintegration of the Russian world”, revisiting a familiar theme. The West has rejected this as nonsense, calling Russian actions in Ukraine an imperial-style land grab.
PEACE TALKS NOT ON AGENDA
Biden will be face-to-face with the man he has spoken with regularly over the past 10 months but not met in person since the war broke out. He will not use the talks to push Zelenskiy towards the negotiating table with Putin, the U.S. official said.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday it saw no chance of peace talks with Kyiv. In a call with reporters, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that continued Western arms supplies to Ukraine would lead to a “deepening” of the conflict.
The Biden administration has provided about $20 billion in military assistance to Ukraine, including artillery ammunition, munitions for NASAMS air defence systems and for high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS).
Zelenskiy has repeatedly called on the West to supply more advanced weaponry ranging from modern battle tanks to missile defence systems.
On Tuesday, Zelenskiy made a surprise trip to the battered eastern frontline city of Bakhmut, his office said, underlining the importance of its defence against Russia’s stuttering but persistent attempts to capture it.
In his nightly video address, Zelenskiy called it a trip to “Fortress Bakhmut” in Donetsk, a province Russia claimed to have annexed in September in a move rejected by most countries as an illegal occupation.
Dressed in combat khaki, Zelenskiy handed out medals to soldiers in a dilapidated industrial complex to applause, video released by his office showed.
In contrast, Putin awarded medals in the comfort of the Kremlin to the Russian-appointed leaders of Donetsk and three
other regions of Ukraine that Russia claims to have annexed.
Video footage released on Ukrinform TV, part of Ukraine’s state news agency, showed servicemen in Bakhmut handing Zelenskiy a Ukrainian flag with their signatures on it.
“We will turn it over to the Congress and to the U.S. president from the guys,” Zelenskiy said in the video. “We are grateful for the support. But it’s not enough.”
The U.S. Senate has advanced a government-funding bill that includes $44.9 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine and NATO allies. The money would be used for military training, equipment, logistics and intelligence support, as well as for replenishing U.S. equipment sent to Ukraine.
The World Bank said on Tuesday it had approved an additional financing package for Ukraine totalling $610 million to address urgent relief and recovery needs.
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