The White House — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, alongside President Joe Biden, on Tuesday forcefully, evocatively, and emotionally pressed his case for $61 billion in new U.S. aid to help his country fight off Russia’s invasion – a prospect that hangs in the balance as Congress decides on the matter.
Zelenskyy, who has met in person with Biden multiple times since the Russian invasion in early 2022, rejected the notion that his nation would cede territory to the Russians after nearly two years of brutal warfare.
“That’s insane, to be honest,” he said.
He added: “I don’t know whose idea it is, but I have a question to these people: if they are ready to give up their children to terrorists. I think not.”
Biden also pressed for Ukrainian victory and seemed to push back against starting negotiations with Moscow.
“We need to ensure Putin continues to fail in Ukraine and Ukraine to succeed,” he said. “And the best way for that to do that is to pass the supplemental” funding request.
But the U.S. Congress, which signs the checks, is not yet convinced. Earlier Tuesday, Zelenskyy met with lawmakers in an attempt to persuade them.
Republicans say they want to see “proper oversight” of the funding, and they also want to see “a clear articulation of strategy.”
Biden, meanwhile, accused Republicans of playing into Moscow’s hands by failing to pass the aid package.
“The host of a Kremlin-run show said, ‘Well done, Republicans. That’s good for us,’” he said, adding: “If you’re being celebrated by Russian propagandists, it might be time to rethink what you’re doing. History will judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom’s cause.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused Zelenskyy of “cadging” – slang meaning to beg for something undeserved – and said he is an American puppet.
But U.S. taxpayers are showing signs of Ukraine fatigue, and some Republicans question why about a third of U.S. money goes not toward weapons, but government assistance.
John Jameson, a mine-clearing campaigner who recently visited the country, said Ukraine needs every penny.
“The deminers were working while we heard the sound of artillery going on,” he told VOA, on Zoom. “And they’re doing that because they know it’s essential for them to be able to start farming and producing and going back to work now so they can live so they can not only just to fight the war but so they can live but no, we can’t wait until the fighting is over.”
But when will it end? Analysts say this may take more than a year – and question whether Ukraine’s supporters are funding it enough, considering how well this small army has done against a much larger foe.
“They’ve become, in some ways, victims of their own success,” said Dalibor Rohac, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “I don’t think we should be sort of reasonably asking Ukrainians to do more, especially given the almost homeopathic nature of Western assistance. When you think about the amounts of munitions that are being delivered – the miniscule amounts of long range artillery, precision artillery, air defenses, etc, etc, that are being delivered to Ukraine. I think they are making a really impressive use of very limited resources that are given to them, provided to them, against a much larger adversary.”
This urgent discussion comes as Biden on Tuesday announced another $200 million in military aid for Ukraine.
Speaking Monday at the National Defense University in Washington, Zelenskyy said Ukraine needs to “win the sky,” as he advocated for missiles, drones and jets to expand the Ukrainian military’s air defenses.
“It’s crucial that politicians don’t even try to betray the soldiers because, just like weapons are needed for their defense, freedom always requires unity,” Zelenskyy said.
Biden has asked Congress for a $110 billion package of wartime funding for Ukraine and Israel, along with other national security priorities. Ukraine would get more than $61 billion of that.
But Republicans in the U.S. Senate have balked, saying major U.S. border security changes are needed.
Some Republicans are asking for the immediate deportation of migrants who entered the country illegally, stripping them of a chance to seek U.S. asylum.
They have also called for greatly scaling back Biden administration programs that have allowed hundreds of thousands of migrants to enter the U.S. lawfully.
The U.S. has already provided Ukraine $111 billion for its fight against Russia’s 2022 invasion.
In his speech Monday, Zelenskyy emphasized the importance of defeating Russia in Ukraine because if Russia wins in Ukraine, he said, Russian President Vladimir Putin will not stop there.
“His [Putin’s] weapon against you right now is propaganda and disinformation. But if he sees a chance, he’ll go further,” he said. “Now, he’s shifting Russia’s economy and society [onto] what he calls ‘war tracks.’”
The Ukrainian president said that, so far, Ukrainian forces have taken back 50% of the territory they lost to Russia and pointed to the perseverance of Ukrainian “warriors” on the battleground.
“Right now, amid fierce battles, our soldiers are holding positions on the front and preparing for further actions, and we haven’t let Russia score any victory this year,” Zelenskyy said.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin also spoke at the National Defense University event, saying U.S. support in Ukraine is unshakeable.
“If we do not stand up [to] the Kremlin’s aggression today, if we do not deter other would-be aggressors, we will only invite more aggression, more bloodshed and more chaos,” Austin said.
The International Monetary Fund’s executive board on Monday approved a $900 million disbursement for Ukraine as part of an ongoing, long-term loan.
“Thank you for supporting Ukraine and celebrating the successes of our country and our people,” Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel after his meeting with IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva Monday in Washington.
Georgieva said Ukraine’s economy had proven resilient despite Russia’s invasion in February 2022.
“Looking ahead, whereas the recovery is expected to continue, the outlook has significant risks stemming mainly from the exceptionally high war-related uncertainty,” Georgieva said in a statement, according to Reuters. “It is also critical that external financing on concessional terms continue on a timely and predictable basis.”
The IMF on Monday asked Ukraine to conduct an “ambitious” external commercial debt restructuring in the first half of 2024 to help restore debt sustainability.
In a televised ceremony Monday, Putin inspected two nuclear submarines — the Krasnoyarsk and Emperor Alexander III — at the Sevmash shipbuilding yard in the arctic port of Severodvinsk.
The Emperor Alexander III is part of Russia’s new Borei [Arctic Wind] class of nuclear submarines, the first new generation Russia has launched since the Cold War.
Last month, the Russian Defense Ministry said the vessel had successfully tested a nuclear-capable Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile.
Security analysts say nuclear arms have assumed a greater importance in Putin’s thinking and rhetoric since the start of the Ukraine conflict, where his conventional forces are locked in a grinding war of attrition with no end in sight.
VOA’s Carla Babb contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.