WASHINGTON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with President Joe Biden at the White House Wednesday ahead of a scheduled address to a joint session of Congress later in the evening. The trip was Zelenskyy’s first known wartime trip outside Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion last February.
Zelenskyy arrived at the White House shortly after 2 p.m. for a bilateral meeting with Biden, who was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“It’s an honor to be by your side, united in defense in what is a brutal, brutal war,” Biden said to Zelenskyy in the Oval Office, ahead of the bilateral meeting.
“The Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world, and I mean that sincerely,” said Biden. “Not just inspire us, but inspire the world with their courage and how they have chosen resilience and resolve for their future.”
The two leaders plan to hold a joint press conference after the meeting wraps up, currently scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET.
Zelenskyy’s visit came as the U.S. Senate prepared to vote on an omnibus spending bill that includes approximately $45 billion of both military and economic aid to Ukraine in the coming year, billions more than Biden initially requested in November.
In addition to the money in the omnibus bill, the Biden administration announced a package of nearly $2 billion in security assistance during Zelenskyy’s visit.
“We’re going to continue to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, particularly air defense,” Biden said at the start of the two leaders’ meeting. “That’s why we’re going to be providing Ukraine with a Patriot missile battery, and training your forces to be able to accurately use it.”
Until now, the United States has resisted sending a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine, partly over concerns that Ukrainian troops would struggle to properly use the complex, multi-part weapon, which requires dozens of soldiers to operate it.
Like Wednesday’s aid package, the assistance being considered by Congress is primarily military, with more than $20 billion to supply weapons and equipment to Ukraine’s armed forces, who are waging a bitter fight in freezing temperatures to recapture territories occupied by Russian troops.
This figure also includes funding to replenish U.S. Defense Department stockpiles that have been depleted after nearly a year of providing materiel to Ukraine.
Another $6.2 billion is earmarked for the thousands of American troops that Biden ordered to deploy to Eastern Europe shortly after Russia’s invasion. They are largely stationed in Romania and Poland.
A worker installs Ukrainian and U.S. flags near the U.S. Capitol ahead of a visit by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for talks with U.S. President Joe Biden and an address to a joint meeting of Congress in Washington, U.S., December 21, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
Meanwhile, Ukrainian civilians are under near constant bombardment by Russian missiles and drones, which have destroyed vast swaths of the country’s electrical grid and water infrastructure.
If the Senate approves the yearlong government funding bill, it would go to the House, where Democratic leadership wants to pass it and send it to Biden’s desk before they leave for the holiday recess on Thursday.
The Biden administration and Ukraine’s many supporters in Congress also hope that Zelenskyy’s visit will help firm up congressional support for the massive aid package.
After nearly a year of war, some Republicans have begun to openly question whether the U.S. should keep funding the Ukrainian military.