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Ukraine“s Zelenskiy arrives in Washington seeking weapons

2022-12-21T17:54:29Z

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was seen at the train station in the southern Polish city of Przemysl on his way to the U.S. on Wednesday (December 21), footage from private broadcaster TVN showed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy arrived in 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 ahead of his visit that it 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 needed.

“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.”

Ahead of Zelenskiy’s arrival, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the United States would provide another $1.85 billion in military aid for Ukraine including a Patriot air defence system to help it ward off barrages of Russian missiles.

“…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 has made a point of staying close to his people during the war, with daring trips to battlefronts, countless calls with world leaders and videolink speeches to parliaments and international institutions.

In Washington, he will meet 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 National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC that diplomacy would be discussed with Zelenskiy, but the Ukrainian leader would be put under no pressure for peace talks.

Kirby said Washington was seeing no sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin was willing to engage in peacemaking.

“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,” Kirby told MSNBC in a separate interview earlier.

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 string of battlefield defeats since the summer – amid widespread reports of disorganisation, poor training and shoddy gear – 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, but the army had to learn from and fix the problems it had experienced in Ukraine.

He gave his backing to a plan by his defence minister to boost the size of the armed forces by more than 30% to 1.5 million combat personnel. A call-up of 300,000 reservists in September was plagued with problems, with many men physically unfit or too old and lacking basic equipment.

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.

He 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.

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.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, likened Zelenskiy’s quest to Britain’s World War Two leader Winston Churchill, who sought U.S. aid against Nazi Germany.

“Where Winston Churchill stood generations ago, so too President Zelenskiy stands not just as a president, but also as an ambassador of freedom itself,” the top Senate Democrat said. “Now is not the time…to take our foot off the gas when it comes to helping Ukraine.”

On Tuesday, Zelenskiy had made a surprise trip to Bakhmut, an eastern frontline city shattered by months of Russian bombardment. He handed out medals to soldiers and underlining the importance of Bakhmut’s defence against Russia’s stuttering but persistent attempts to capture the city.

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.

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.”

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