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In a wartime address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged lawmakers and all Americans to continue supporting his country with military and financial aid as it fights for its existence against a revanchist Russia, warning that anything short of victory would threaten the free world, including the United States.
During his 22-minute speech from the podium of the House of Representatives on December 21, Zelenskiy stressed that Ukraine can win the war against a better-armed Russian Army, but said U.S. military and financial aid was “crucial” to achieving final victory.
As he asked for more aid, Zelenskiy sought to hammer home to the American people that a war being fought thousands of miles away in towns they never heard of concerned them directly. He stressed that global freedom and democracy as well as American security were at stake in Ukraine and compared war with Russia to the U.S. War of Independence.
Ukraine’s defense “is not only for life, freedom, and the security of Ukrainians. It will define whether [there] will be democracy for Ukrainians and for Americans,” Zelenskiy, dressed in his signature, military-style olive-green sweater and trousers, said in English.
The war “cannot be frozen or postponed, it cannot be ignored, hoping that the ocean or something else will provide protection.”
Zelenskiy’s trip to the United States comes as Congress prepares to vote on a sweeping spending bill that includes a provision to allocate an estimated $45 billion in additional military aid to Ukraine.
While the bill is expected to pass, U.S. support for Ukraine has waned as the 10-month war drags on and as Americans feel the pinch from high inflation.
Many members of the Republican party, which will take control of the House in January, have criticized massive aid to Ukraine at a time when the U.S. economy is suffering and also questioned how the aid is being used. Meanwhile, some members of the Democratic party have expressed concern that growing military aid to Ukraine will provoke Russia.
Zelenskiy sought to address those concerns head on, saying U.S. aid was not “charity” but rather “an investment in global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”
Zelenskiy told Congress that he had presented Biden with a 10-point peace plan but did not disclose its contents. The announcement of such a peace plan could soothe those members of Congress who had been calling for more diplomacy and less aid.
Zelenskiy also said that Iran -- which the United States has labeled a terrorist state -- had essentially allied with Russia in its war against his country, selling hundreds of deadly kamikaze drones to Moscow.
“That is how one terrorist has found the other,” he said, a reference to Ukraine’s designation of Russia as a terrorist state as well.
“It is just a matter of time when they will strike against your other allies if we do not stop them now,” he said.
Zelenskiy’s visit to Washington came a day after his trip to Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine at the heart of the war.
Russia has been trying to capture Bakhmut for months, shelling the city nonstop and throwing wave after wave of soldiers into the fight.
The capture of Bakhmut would allow Russia to disrupt Ukraine's supply lines but also open the door for a future offensive on two bigger Ukrainian cities with more industry and rail access.
In his address, Zelenskiy compared the heroism of Ukrainian soldiers defending Bakhmut to that shown by U.S. troops fighting Hitler’s military in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, also during the Christmas season.
“Bakhmut stands,” Zelenskiy said to cheers. “Ukraine holds its lines and will never surrender.”
He also compared the fighting in Bakhmut to the Battle of Saratoga during the U.S. War of Independence. The Americans won that battle against the English, turning the tide of the war.
Zelenskiy said “more cannons and shells are needed” to drive the Russians from Bakhmut and open a path to Ukraine's final victory.
“Your support is crucial, not just to stand in such a fight, but to get to the turning point to win on the battlefield.
Zelenskiy did not directly ask Congress during his address for Abrams tanks, F-16 fighter jets, or the long-range, guided missiles known as ATACMS. Ukraine’s military has been seeking those weapons for months but the Biden administration has refused as of yet to give the green light.
Zelenskiy though indirectly hinted at the desire for fighter jets during his address, saying Ukraine doesn’t need U.S. troops on the ground because his soldiers can “perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves.”
Zelenskiy concluded his speech by thanking both parties of Congress and the American people for their support of Ukraine.
Elise Giuliano, a professor of political science at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies, told RFE/RL that Zelenskiy was effective in communicating to Americans.
“He is appealing to our interest in protecting democracy but also in our own security,” she said. He is “also looking for those points of commonality” between the two countries.
Giuliano said that it was wise of Zelenskiy to highlight Iran’s support for Russia because many Americans readily identify Tehran as a “bad” and “aggressive” actor that the United States needs to “stand up to.” .
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (left) and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hold an inscribed Ukrainian flag brought by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy from the frontline city of Bakhmut at a joint session of the U.S. Congress on December 21.
Zelenskiy had arrived in the U.S. capital earlier in the day on his first trip abroad since the start of Russia's invasion 10 months ago.
He held a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss aid and the course of the war before holding talks with Congressional leaders from both parties.
Biden announced a new $1.85 billion security assistance package for Ukraine that includes a Patriot air defense battery.
Ukrainian leaders have pleaded for the Patriots to be provided, and Zelenskiy said during a news conference with Biden that he would likely ask for more. Ukraine needs them to prevent the destruction of the country's civilian infrastructure, including loss of electricity and heat in the cold winter months
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