Ukraine’s Zelenskiy plans to address US Congress in-person on Wednesday

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will visit Washington on Wednesday, his first trip outside his country since Russia invaded 10 months ago, with plans to meet President Joe Biden and address Congress in person to rally support from a crucial ally.

Zelenskiy will have the opportunity to appeal directly to Republican lawmakers skeptical of continued US aid. In addition to addressing a joint session of Congress, he’ll convene with Biden at the White House, according to people familiar with the matter.

Zelenskiy is determined to shore up support for shipments of more — and more advanced — weapons to Ukraine.

The speech at the Capitol will follow an expected move by the Biden administration to announce plans to deliver Patriot air-defense missiles to Ukraine, a significant escalation of US support. Zelenskiy’s visit would mark his first trip outside Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

The people familiar with Zelenskiy’s visit asked not to be identified because his speech has not been publicly announced, and they cautioned his plans could change because of security concerns.

His stop in Washington comes less than two weeks before Republicans take control of the US House from Democrats following November’s midterm election. Even with their vows to more rigorously scrutinize Biden administration spending plans, GOP veterans including Senate leader Mitch McConnell insist they still favor US military aid for Ukraine.

“Providing assistance for Ukrainians to defeat the Russians is the number one priority for the United States right now according to most Republicans,” McConnell said Tuesday.

Yet several prominent Republicans are openly questioning whether to continue US military and financial support for Zelenskiy’s government, jeopardizing future aid even as Ukraine endures a barrage of Russian missile attacks.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a conservative firebrand, typified that skepticism in a mocking tweet Tuesday after news broke about Zelenskiy’s visit. “Of course the shadow president has to come to Congress and explain why he needs billions of American’s taxpayer dollars for the 51st state, Ukraine,” tweeted Greene, a Georgia Republican. “This is absurd. Put America First!!!”

Congress is poised by the end of the week to send a $1.7 trillion fiscal 2023 spending bill to Biden that includes more than $45 billion to aid Ukraine.

But given significant House Republican skepticism about the war effort, the aid package may be the most substantial one for Ukraine in the near future. Republicans take control of the House in January and have vowed to more closely scrutinize US financial assistance to Ukraine.

At the very least there will be demands for more scrutiny of how Ukraine spends US aid dollars. The House GOP leader and likely next speaker, California Representative Kevin McCarthy, hasn’t joined calls from some in the party to cut back, he’s said there will no longer be a “blank check” for Ukraine assistance.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to other representatives on Tuesday urging them to be “physically present” Wednesday.

“We are ending a very special session of the 117th Congress with legislation that makes progress for the American people as well as support for our Democracy,” Pelosi said. “Please be present for a very special focus on Democracy Wednesday night.”

White House spokespeople declined to immediately comment. Zelenskiy’s press office did not immediately reply to requests for comment after business hours in Kyiv.

The visit to Washington comes a day after a trip by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Belarus, seeding new doubts about Moscow’s strategy and intentions.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that the US has no indication Belorussian forces are becoming actively involved in the conflict but that Minsk continues to enable Putin’s war effort.

Zelenskiy addressed Congress in March, shortly after Russia’s invasion, speaking to lawmakers by video link from Ukraine. In that address to the US House and Senate, he implored lawmakers for immediate assistance and invoked parallels to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Pearl Harbor.

Zelenskiy in an address on Tuesday night in Ukraine said it was critical to obtain more assistance as the country enters winter.

“We will do everything possible and impossible, expected and unexpected, so that our heroes have everything they need to prevail,” he said. “This week is extremely important for Ukraine – in order to get through this winter and next year.”

Ukraine is facing repeated Russian missile and drone strikes that have targeted civilians and critical energy infrastructure in the country, causing cuts to power and water supplies.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said damage caused by Russia’s shelling is being fixed and water supplies are resuming in the city.

Zelenskiy has also pressed the US for more advanced weapons systems to fend off the barrage of Russian air attacks.

The US is also poised to approve plans to send Patriot air and missile defense systems to Ukraine, pending final approval from Biden and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, two US officials said last week.

Punchbowl News reported earlier that Zelenskiy was expected to visit the Capitol. – BLOOMBERG