In the US, Zelensky will defend the need for more aid and give thanks | ET REALITY


A hero’s welcome awaited President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on his first trip to the United States after Russia’s full-scale invasion, which came on the heels of two consecutive military advances that showcased Ukrainian momentum to the West. Zelensky spoke at a joint session of Congress last December, highlighting successes and calling for continued help.

Zelensky’s second visit, which begins Tuesday, is a more delicate political mission, coming amid skepticism about assistance to Ukraine from some Republican lawmakers and amid a slow and so far inconclusive counteroffensive on which Many hopes had been placed in the war. been immobilized.

Zelensky will attend the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, where an effort to win support among developing nations that have wavered or leaned toward Russia is expected to continue. He will then travel to Washington to meet with congressional leaders and visit the White House.

The Ukrainian president faces his appearances with a more balanced message. He remains a tireless advocate for military assistance to the Ukrainian military, but has infused his pleas with deep expressions of gratitude for what the West has already provided.

It is a change in tone and approach for Zelensky after criticism that he was berating his allies and appearing ungrateful as he pressured them for weapons.

At a NATO summit in July, Ben Wallace, then Britain’s defense minister, said: “Whether they like it or not, people want to see a bit more gratitude.” He said he was offering advice to Ukraine to win over those who have been skeptical of the aid.

At the same summit, in Vilnius, Lithuania, Jake Sullivan, national security adviser to the Biden administration, said that “the American people deserve a degree of gratitude” for ammunition, air defense systems, armored vehicles and equipment mine clearance.

Zelensky seemed to get the message.

“Thank you very much,” he said in a brief comment during Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s visit to kyiv this month, in which Zelensky said thank you eight times.

“We are really grateful. We are very grateful,” she stated.

Last December, Zelensky arrived in Washington just weeks after the Ukrainian army defeated Russian forces in the only provincial capital they had taken in the full-scale invasion, Kherson, in the country’s south. Earlier in the fall, Ukraine had launched a successful surprise attack against Russian forces in the Kharkiv region in the northeast, recapturing towns and villages across a wide swath of territory.

The gains meant Ukraine had reclaimed about half of the territory Russia seized in the invasion that began in February 2022.

Ukrainian forces at the time were also holding off the Russians in Bakhmut. (The Russians finally captured the city in May.) In his appearance before Congress, which drew a standing ovation, Zelensky introduced Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris. with a Ukrainian flag signed by soldiers fighting in Bakhmut.

At the time, preparations were already underway for the military operation that began in southern Ukraine in June this year, after a months-long wait for American and European weaponry, including tanks and armored vehicles. Zelensky has complained that the delay gave Russia time to dig and lay vast minefields, thwarting any quick advance.

Other factors added to the delay, including late spring rains, but the Ukrainian government’s evolving argument was that the West’s hesitancy about sending more powerful and sophisticated weapons was costly in terms of counteroffensive effectiveness.

The Ukrainian army is now engaged in laborious but cruel and bloody fighting along two main lines of attack through agricultural fields and small villages.

Military analysts have not ruled out the operation, but even Zelensky has said it is progressing more slowly than expected. This month, Ukraine breached a main line of Russian defenses near the village of Robotyne and is struggling to widen the gap enough to send in armored vehicles.

At home, Zelensky remains politically popular, although he has faced some obstacles, including corruption in military recruiting offices and procurement that led to the firing of his defense minister. On Monday, Ukraine dismissed its six deputy defense ministers, a significant shakeup in its wartime operations.

After nearly 19 months of war, the vast majority of Ukrainians remain angry at Russia for the invasion and deeply opposed to any deal that would leave President Vladimir V. Putin with any benefit from the attack.

In addition to lobbying the United States and Europe for military aid, Ukraine has been seeking diplomatic backing from developing countries in Africa and South America, arguing that disruptions to grain shipments are driving up food prices. It also wants to reinforce the support of its military allies, among which the United States is the most fundamental.

The United States provides about a third of direct weapons donations to the Ukrainian military. Since the full-scale invasion of Russia, Congress has passed approximately $43 billion in security assistance.

Now, the White House has asked Congress for an additional $24 billion in aid to Ukraine, which appears likely to become embroiled in partisan fights over spending this fall. Zelensky will have the opportunity to try to unite Democrats and Republicans on the need for continued military assistance.

Looming over Zelensky’s visit are the US presidential elections, just over a year away. The prospect of a second Trump administration and a less enthusiastic commitment to helping Ukraine is a concern for leaders in kyiv.

“It’s a different kind of conversation” for the Ukrainian leader in Washington as the United States moves toward an election year, Igor Novikov, Zelensky’s former U.S. political adviser, said in an interview. The president will try to “keep the substance of the war on the agenda and not allow it to become an internal political pingpong, because it is a matter of life and death.”

As Ukraine becomes a domestic political issue in the United States and European nations, kyiv will need to engage politicians who oppose Ukraine’s spending, Novikov said.

Ukrainian politicians of all points of view have said that the country’s national interest lies in maintaining bipartisan support for American aid. Zelensky met in kyiv over the summer with former Vice President Mike Pence and has regularly hosted Republican members of Congress.

In Washington, Zelensky also aims to argue that defending Europe’s borders in Ukraine serves U.S. interests, according to an official in the president’s office. Otherwise, the war could spread and destabilize the European Union, which is the United States’ largest trading partner.

In the run-up to the invasion, Russia claimed security influence in Eastern Europe more broadly, demanding that countries admitted to NATO after the breakup of the Soviet Union leave the alliance.

“If Ukraine were to fail, Putin would be emboldened with profound economic and security effects for the United States and the average American,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about Zelensky’s visit. “We will reiterate that Americans should never have to fight the Russians in Europe, and the best way to ensure that is a Ukrainian victory.”

Zelensky also intends to lay out Ukraine’s plans for the war in private conversations, the official said, to calm concerns that fighting could stall in the back-and-forth battles of recent months along the front. Ukraine has achieved some success in long-range attacks against Russian air and naval bases and this month damaged a landing ship and a submarine in the port of Sevastopol in occupied Crimea.

Still, a key goal, the official said, is to deliver “a huge message of gratitude to the president, Congress and the American people.”

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