lunes, mayo 20

Russia-Ukraine War: Zelensky Thanks Americans in Emotional Speech to End Washington Visit

President Biden told President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Thursday that the United States would be “staying with you” as its grinding war with Russia continues, even as a growing faction of the Republican Party has threatened to hold up aid that Mr. Zelensky said could cost his country the war.

Mr. Zelensky’s second wartime visit to Washington was spent visiting Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and, finally, the White House, in an extended appeal for more weapons. Along the way, he carried a grim warning. During a meeting at the Capitol with dozens of senators, Mr. Zelensky said Ukraine would lose the war without the aid, according to Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader.

At the White House, Mr. Biden said the United States would begin shipping over Abrams tanks, which the Ukrainians had long sought and were part of an existing pledge, next week. He also acknowledged that he had little choice but to have faith in a bipartisan breakthrough for continued support for Ukraine.

“I’m counting on the good judgment of the United States Congress,” Mr. Biden said. “There’s no alternative.”

Mr. Zelensky’s visit came as polls have shown a growing weariness over the war among the American public, and as dozens of Republicans say they are opposed to Mr. Biden’s latest request to Congress for $24 billion for additional aid for Ukraine. Mr. Biden has bucked Republican concerns, pledging that the United States — by far the largest military funder of Ukraine among its Western allies — will stay with Kyiv for the long haul.

Mr. Zelensky said he also received assurances from Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, in a private meeting that the House would continue to support the Ukrainian war effort. “He said that they will be on our side — it’s not simple — that they will support,” he said during a meeting with U.S. editors on Thursday night.

Congress has already approved $113 billion in military, economic, humanitarian and other aid for Ukraine, including around $70 billion for security, intelligence and other war fighting costs. Mr. Biden on Thursday released a new military package, worth $325 million, from the existing funding, including what officials called significant air-defense capabilities.

Mr. Zelensky had been hoping that the Americans would provide a powerful weapon called the Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, which can strike targets 190 miles away with a warhead containing about 375 pounds of explosives. “We have to” have them, he said in the meeting with the editors. “Because we don’t have another way out.”

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told reporters that Mr. Biden would not provide ATACMS now, but that he had not taken it off the table.

To keep ammunition flowing for Ukraine’s offensive operations, the Pentagon will also send more guided artillery rockets and artillery shells.

Mr. Zelensky said Ukraine would not stop its counteroffensive this winter and hoped to take advantage of what he considered Russian weaknesses. “I’m not the best person for military in the world,” he said, but President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia needed to “pause because he really lost people, professional army, lost. They’re dead.”

“We can’t stop during the winter,” he said. “It’s difficult. But we have experience of previous year.”

He predicted that Ukrainian forces would retake — would “de-occupy,” as he put it — Bakhmut and two more cities. “I will not tell you what cities, sorry,” Mr. Zelensky told the editors, saying the military had a “very comprehensive plan.”

Washington has changed in the nine months since Mr. Zelensky was last here to deliver a joint address to Congress. At the time, Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brandished a Ukrainian flag signed by soldiers on the front line. Mr. Biden, who harbored serious doubts about Mr. Zelensky’s longevity as a leader at the outset of the invasion, had started to greet the Ukrainian leader like an old friend during regular phone calls. Mr. Biden secretly visited Kyiv in February.

These days, Republicans control the House, which has descended into chaos recently as lawmakers seem unwilling to agree on passing spending legislation that would avert a government shutdown. And insurgent members are threatening to relieve Mr. McCarthy of his gavel.

In a show of bipartisan comity, Mr. Zelensky, dressed in dark-olive fatigues, was escorted through the Capitol during his visit by Mr. Schumer and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

“American support for Ukraine is not charity,” Mr. McConnell, the minority leader, said in a statement. “It’s in our own direct interests — not least because degrading Russia helps to deter China.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine met with Senator Mitch McConnell, left, and Senator Chuck Schumer, right, at the Capitol on Thursday. Credit…Kenny Holston/The New York Times

Mr. McCarthy has been under pressure to take a hard line amid demands in his caucus for spending cuts,

and in a closed-door meeting on Thursday, Republican lawmakers asked Mr. Zelensky to address their concerns and provide them with his vision of a plan for victory. Democrats asked him how they could convince their conservative colleagues that continuing to support the war was the right answer.

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said Mr. Zelensky had listened to questions about “funding fatigue,” and then talked about the “consequences of us cutting off the money.”

He said Mr. Zelensky had stressed that Europe and other countries look to the United States for leadership, and a decision by Washington to curtail aid could undercut Europe’s commitment.

Later, Mr. Zelensky brought his wife, Olena, to the meeting at the White House.

The Zelenskys have tried to build personal relationships with the president and Jill Biden, the first lady. Olena Zelenska has spent much of her time in hiding since the beginning of the war, but she has written letters to Dr. Biden, and the two of them met last year in Ukraine when the first lady took a secret trip to the country.

“It’s good that our countries are really truly allies,” Mr. Zelensky said, reading from a set of cards as he sat next to the president. “I am in Washington to strengthen Ukraine’s position to defend our children, our families, our homes, freedom and democracy in the world.”

Mr. Zelensky also recounted his “frank, constructive dialogue” earlier today with members of Congress from both parties. He posted a picture of himself with the House leaders, and emphasized that Ukraine is “sincerely grateful to the House, both parties, and the entire American people for all the support.”

Reporting was contributed by Karoun Demirjian, James C. McKinley Jr., John Ismay and Elisabeth Bumiller.