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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Zelenskyy begins aid push in Washington, casting inaction as win for Putin

“If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just Putin and his sick clique,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said after arriving in Washington on Monday.

By Zolan Kanno-Youngs

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine began his last-ditch pitch for additional U.S. aid for his country’s war effort after arriving in Washington Monday by declaring that the true winner of the stalled negotiations in Congress is Russia.

“If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just Putin and his sick clique,” Zelenskyy told national security officials at the National Defense University in Washington.

The remarks represented a message to Congress, even as its chances of passing an aid deal have become increasingly bleak. They also marked Zelenskyy’s first appeals in a hastily organized trip to Washington that was also scheduled to include meetings with members of Congress and President Joe Biden on Tuesday.

Zelenskyy and the White House have argued that supporting Ukraine would protect the West in the long term by preventing Russian President Vladimir Putin from trying to seize more of Europe, though polls show the American public has grown increasingly skeptical of financial assistance for Ukraine.

“America will be more secure if we stand up to Putin’s increasingly aggressive Russia,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday, adding that “Putin still believes that he can outlast Ukraine and that he can outlast America. But he is wrong.”

Biden is hoping Zelenskyy will not only sway members of Congress to pass a $110.5 billion emergency spending bill that includes aid for Ukraine but will also reiterate the importance of defending against Russia’s aggression. The visit comes a week after Republicans blocked the package, putting any future financial assistance for Ukraine in doubt.

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian president will first visit Capitol Hill, where Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, have organized a closed-door meeting with senators. He is also expected to meet with Speaker Mike Johnson, a spokesperson for Johnson said over the weekend.

Later in the afternoon, he is scheduled to meet with Biden at the White House and hold a joint news conference.

“This is exactly the right time to be having President Zelenskyy in town to have these discussions,” John F. Kirby, a spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council, said of Biden’s invitation to host Zelenskyy. “I can assure you that he will make it clear to President Zelenskyy that we’re standing firm on this supplemental request. We absolutely need to get additional funding to support Ukraine.”

Last week, Zelenskyy’s chief of staff warned that without the package, Ukraine could lose the war. Biden and his aides have also warned that refusing to support Ukraine in the coming months could pave the way for a Russian victory.

Republicans, however, have said that any Ukraine aid must be grouped with restrictions on asylum claims at the United States’ southern border and on another program Biden has relied on to allow Afghans and other refugees to stay in the United States temporarily, according to people familiar with the matter. They have also pushed for the national expansion of a rapid deportation policy.

Democrats, with the support of the White House, have signaled support only for some of the restrictions on asylum, including a move that would impose a stricter definition for migrants to meet when they claim they need refuge because they fear persecution in their home countries.

“There’s no way to get it done this week,” said Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican involved in the negotiations. He said the only question is whether Congress stays in Washington next week and continues deliberating or picks up the talks in early January. “That’s a big unknown at this point.”

Separately, Biden is also expected to approve another weapons package using existing funds for Ukraine this month, Kirby said.

Republicans have grown more outspoken with their skepticism as it has become clear that Ukraine has struggled with its counteroffensive against Russia. While the United States has provided tens of billions of dollars in aid, Ukraine’s top military commander, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said last month that the war had reached a stalemate, as deadly battles yielded few territorial gains.

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