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Ukraine’s Zelensky will visit Biden, the US Congress on Wednesday

Ukraine’s Zelensky will visit Biden, the US Congress on Wednesday

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  • Zelensky will meet with Biden, speaks to Congress
  • A US package of nearly $2 billion will be announced
  • A Patriot missile battery is part of the new aid
  • Zelensky presented medals in the besieged Bakhmut, his office announced

WASHINGTON/KYIV, December 21 (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is traveling to the United States to meet with President Joe Biden and visit Congress on Wednesday in his first known foreign trip since Russia’s February 24 invasion.

Zelensky said he was going to Washington for talks with Biden to strengthen Ukraine’s “resilience and defense capabilities” and to address the US Congress.

During the visit, Biden will announce a nearly $2 billion military aid package for Ukraine that will include a Patriot missile battery to help defend against Russian missile fire, a senior U.S. official said.

Zelensky’s visit, which was arranged in secret until details were clarified on Tuesday evening, was expected to last several hours.

He will hold talks with Biden and top national security aides at the White House, participate in a joint news conference with Biden and then go to Capitol Hill to address a joint session of the US Senate and House of Representatives.

White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said in a statement that Biden had invited Zelensky to Washington “to underscore the United States’ enduring commitment to Ukraine.”

“The visit will underscore the unwavering commitment of the United States to support Ukraine for as long as necessary, including by providing economic, humanitarian and military assistance,” she said.

Zelensky’s trip comes 300 days after Russia invaded Ukraine with the goal of capturing Kyiv within days, a goal that quickly failed as the force of Ukraine’s response — aided by billions in weapons from the United States and allies — turned Ukrainians into an unexpected tough opponents.

Biden’s message to Zelensky will be decisive and convincing, the US official said.

Biden will be face-to-face with the man he has spoken to regularly for the past 10 months but has not met in person since the war broke out. With Biden’s staunch support, the West rallied behind Ukraine and sought to isolate Russia without engaging in direct conflict with it.

Biden will not use the talks to push Zelensky to the negotiating table with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the US official said.

The Biden administration provided about $20 billion in military aid to Ukraine, including artillery munitions, ammunition for NASAMS air defense systems, and for highly mobile artillery missile systems (HIMARS).

Zelensky repeated calls to the West for more weapons, including air defense systems, after Russian drones hit energy targets in a third strike on energy facilities in six days.

Russia has warned that US-supplied equipment to Ukraine would be a legitimate target for Russian strikes.

‘FORTRESS BAKHMUT’

Zelensky had earlier made a surprise trip to the eastern front-line town of Bakhmut, his office said, underscoring Russia’s stammering but persistent attempts to seize it.

In his overnight video address, Zelensky referred to the visit as a trip to the “Bakhmut fortress” in Donetsk, a province claimed by Russia in September. Most countries reject Russia’s claims as an illegal occupation.

Dressed in combat khaki, Zelensky handed out medals to soldiers at a ruined industrial complex to cheers, a video released by his office showed.

By contrast, Putin awarded medals in the comfort of the Kremlin to Russian-appointed leaders of four regions of Ukraine that Russia claims it annexed after invading its neighbor.

Videos released by Ukrinform TV, part of Ukraine’s state news agency, showed servicemen in Bakhmut handing Zelensky a Ukrainian flag with their signatures on it.

“We will deliver it to Congress and the President of the United States from the boys,” Zelensky said in the video. “We are grateful for the support. But it is not enough,” he added.

He urged troops to keep their spirits up as the Battle of Bakhmut, which symbolizes the brutality of war, enters its fifth month.

“The East endures because Bakhmut fights.” In fierce battles and at the cost of many lives, freedom is being defended here for all of us,” Zelensky wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

CRY FOR HELP

The US Senate has advanced a government funding bill that includes $44.9 billion emergency to Ukraine and NATO allies. The money will be used for military training, equipment, logistics and intelligence support, as well as replenishing US equipment sent to Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the World Bank said it had approved an additional financial package for Ukraine totaling $610 million to meet urgent relief and recovery needs.

Kyiv says it needs Western help to bolster its air defenses as Russian strikes repeatedly cut electricity and water supplies in sub-zero winter temperatures.

Ukrainian officials say Russian missiles and bombings are aimed at breaking the will of civilians.

Prime Minister Denis Schmihal said the Ukrainians must prepare for new attacks from Russia on energy infrastructure because he wanted them to spend Christmas and New Years in the dark.

Reports from Reuters bureaus; Written by Grant McCool and Himani Sarkar; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Robert Birsel

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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