Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will visit Washington on Wednesday, making his first trip out of his beleaguered country since Russia invaded in February.
Zelenksyy’s momentous trip comes after lawmakers agreed to grant Ukraine $45 billion in additional American assistance in a huge bipartisan spending package unveiled on Tuesday. Ukraine is under a continuous and painful assault by Russian forces, who in recent weeks have focused on harming the country’s civilian infrastructure.
The Ukrainian president tweeted out some details of his plans early Wednesday morning.
“On my way to the US to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities of [Ukraine].” he wrote. “In particular, [U.S. President Joe Biden] and I will discuss cooperation between [Ukraine] and [the U.S.]. I will also have a speech at the Congress and a number of bilateral meetings.”
A senior Biden administration official told reporters Zelenskyy is headed stateside on Biden’s invitation. The two leaders are expected to meet at the White House at 2 p.m. Eastern. Zelenskyy is then slated go to Capitol Hill, where he is expected to address a joint session of Congress at 7:30 p.m.
“This visit will underscore the United States’ underlying commitment to Ukraine,” the official said in a Tuesday evening call.
The official added that Biden plans to announce a major new U.S. capability for Ukrainian forces: a Patriot missile battery, the most advanced American air defense system. Additionally, the president will talk to Zelenskyy about Kyiv’s battlefield plans and upcoming international sanctions on Russia, the official said.
A State Department spokesperson separately said the U.S. will provide additional artillery, ammunition, missiles and vehicles to Ukraine, bringing the total Biden-era support to the country to more than $21 billion.
Punchbowl News broke the news of Zelenskyy’s visit on Tuesday afternoon.
On Dec. 20, the 300th day since Russian troops began their full-scale invasion, Zelenskyy traveled to the front line against Russians trying to capture the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. His team has highlighted that unlike Russian President Vladimir Putin, Zelenskyy has repeatedly put himself in clear danger amid the war. The Ukrainian leader has stayed in his homeland throughout the invasion despite intelligence showing Russian plans to assassinate him.
Zelenskyy was “very keen” to make a short visit to Washington and ultimately decided to do so once his team determined that he would be safe, the administration official said.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote to all members of Congress asking them “to be physically present” for Wednesday evening regardless of holiday plans and worries about weather-related travel disruptions.
“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,” she wrote. “Please be present for a very special focus on Democracy Wednesday night.”
U.S. legislators and officials and a number of foreign leaders have previously traveled to Ukraine to visit Zelenskyy and show solidarity with the besieged nation.
The visit comes amid a turnover in control of the House of Representatives, where the incoming GOP majority has cast doubt on crucial U.S. assistance for Ukrainian forces. A striking number of Republicans recently voted for a bill from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to audit American support for Ukraine, and polls of Republican voters show that they are becoming far less sympathetic to Kyiv as right-wing pundits like Tucker Carlson promote pro-Russia talking points about the conflict.
Still, Zelenskyy’s trip is not primarily about convincing skeptics, the Biden administration official argued.
“We have been confident all along that despite some rumors and suggestions to the contrary, support for Ukraine would remain broad, deep and bipartisan,” the official said. “This isn’t about sending a message to a particular political party. This about sending a message to Putin and sending a message to the world.”
Ukrainian civilians face regular Russian airstrikes and the prospect of extensive power cuts as the winter gets colder. Ukrainian authorities say they have killed nearly 100,000 Russian fighters.
Despite Moscow’s extensive losses in the war, Putin still seems unlikely to cut a peace deal “on the very near-term horizon,” the administration official said.
Biden is committed to preventing a direct U.S.-Russia confrontation, the official added, saying he does not intend to deploy an American mission to Ukraine and the new Patriot air defense system, for instance, will be operated by Ukrainian troops, not Americans.
“We know that in the days ahead, the conflict will continue, the winter will be hard, and we will continue day in and day out to provide critical support to the Ukrainian people,” the official added.
Jen Bendery contributed reporting.