Volodymyr Zelensky presented Joe Biden with a medal from a Ukrainian soldier during his visit to the White House on Wednesday as he prepares to make his pitch for more military aid to defeat Vladimir Putin.
Zelensky arrived dressed for battle, wearing green military clothing and combat boots – a stark visual contrast to President Biden’s suit and Jill Biden’s light blue dress. He and Biden sat before a cozy fire in the Oval Office with portraits of past American presidents looking down on them.
In that meeting, Zelensky presented Biden with a medal he said was from a Ukrainian soldier, who he visited in Bakhmut on Tuesday and wanted the American president to have it.
‘He said “Give it to the very brave President,”‘ Zelensky said. The award is the cross for military merit.
Biden said the medal was ‘undeserved but much appreciated’ and then talked about his deceased son Beau, who served in Iraq, and asked Zelensky to bring back a challenge coin from him to that soldier.
President Zelensky and President Biden in the Oval Office, where they exchanged warm words of support and welcome
President Joe Biden (right) puts his arm around Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) as he arrives at the White House Wednesday
Biden kept an arm around Zelensky; first lady Jill Biden joined the arrival ceremony, which included a red carpet and military honor guard
Zelensky gave Biden a Ukrainian military medal, saying it was for merit
President Biden rolled out the red carpet for Zelensky at the White House on Wednesday, giving him a warm welcome even as some Republicans are unhappy with the Ukrainian president’s visit.
Biden, joined by first lady Jill Biden, kept Zelensky close, putting his arm around him to show his support. That demonstration of America’s commitment will include $1.85 billion in additional military assistance for Ukraine and a gift of the Patriot Air Defense System, an anti-missile system.
A huge tranche of funding for the Ukraine is in the federal budget bill that lawmakers will vote on this week. Some Republicans are unhappy about continued assistance – arguing the dollars should be spent at home instead.
A few GOP lawmakers have said they will skip Zelensky’s address to Congress on Wednesday night when the Ukrainian president is expected to ask for even more aid – although Republican Leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are expected to be there.
Biden started the visit by speaking of his joy at having Zelensky by his side.
‘I’m delighted you could make the trip,’ Biden said when he welcomed Zelensky in the Oval Office, adding that ‘Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world.’
Zelensky arrived in the United States shortly after noon on a plane the American government sent to retrieve him. The Ukrainian president came in on an Air Force jet with its distinct blue-and-white that mark it an official government plane, making it clear Zelensky was under American protection.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted with fury about Zelensky’s visit, warning that the trip will not ‘bode well’ for the Ukraine.
But Biden said Putin is trying to ‘use winter as a weapon’ and vowed American support for Ukraine.
‘We’re gonna continue to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend yourself, particularly air defense, and that’s why we’re going to be providing Ukraine with Patriot missile battery,’ he noted.
The advanced weaponry is meant to show the U.S. commitment to the Ukraine as American officials acknowledge the war is unlikely to end anytime soon.
Zelensky has long sought the Patriot missile defense system, which would help his military fend off Russian attacks that have destroyed much of its infrastructure.
It is widely considered one of the best and most capable systems when it comes to defending airspace against incoming attacks. Because of its long range, it can potentially shoot down Russian missiles far from their intended targets inside Ukraine.
It is a complicated system, however, that requires dozens of people to operate and usually takes months to train personnel on how to use. U.S. officials will train Ukrainian service members in Germany, according to reports.
It’s unclear when the missile system will be used in Ukraine given the long training period and the complex logistical arrangements for delivering the sensitive equipment.
Russian responded to the news of the new weaponry with a threat.
Kremlin top spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the delivery of Patriot missiles will lead ‘to an aggravation of the conflict’ and does ‘not bode well for Ukraine.’
Zelensky said on Wednesday he wanted to come to the United States earlier ‘but I couldn’t do it because the station was so difficult.’
He offered ‘all my appreciations from my heart and from the heart of all Ukrainians.’
He thanked Biden, Congress, and ‘ordinary people’ in the United States for their support.
During the visit, his first outside the Ukraine since Russia invaded in February, Zelensky will attempt to barter his star power for hard cash and advance military weaponry.
Zelensky (left) gets out of his SUV at the White House and is greeted by President Joe Biden (center) and first lady Jill Biden (right)
President Joe Biden (right) puts his arm over President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky (center) during an arrival ceremony alongside first lady Jill Biden (left)
President Biden and President Zelensky walk down colonnade at White House
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives in the United States Wednesday. The U.S. rolled out the red carpet for Zelensky, as he flew on a blue-and-white Air Force plane, with similar markings to Air Force One
Members of the security forces for Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky are followed by members of the Secret Service during Zelensky’s visit to the White House
Biden and his administration have pulled out all the stops for Zelensky’s trip – giving the Ukrainian leader, who has reached hero status around the world for his defense of his country, the trappings of a state visit: an Oval Office meeting, a presidential press conference and a Joint Address to Congress.
Ukrainian and American flags lined the streets of Pennsylvania Avenue on the cold but sunny day in Washington D.C.
Overshadowing the historic visit, however, is the looming specter of Russia, where officials announced they would put more boots on the ground in Ukraine and warned Biden’s decision to give Ukraine the power Patriot missile defense system does ‘not bode well’ for the country.
As Zelensky was flying to the United States, Putin was speaking to his top military commanders, repeating his belief that Russian goals in Ukraine will be achieved and said the nation’s soldiers are fighting ‘like the heroes’ of the War of 1812, World War I and World War II.
Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu proposed increasing the size of Russian forces in the Ukraine to 1.5 million – up from the original target of 1.15 million service members.
Putin gave his approval, saying: ‘I agree with your proposals.’
U.S officials said they were aware Zelensky’s absence from his country could lead to increased Russian attacks. Zelensky rallied his troops on Tuesday ahead of his trip.
‘I wish that your sun, that is your children, to shine for you for them to motivate you to survive for sure and defend your families, our state, and the future of your children,’ he said.
He visited the eastern frontline city of Bakhmut, which is the frontlines of the war against Russia, where he wished soldiers good health and reminded them they were fighting for their children.
‘You are absolutely historic people,’ he told them. ‘History only remembers the victors, only the strong and the brave.’
Ukrainian forces have held off Russia’s invading military, pushing them back in the northeast and the south. But the war is expected to continue for some time with both sides digging in for a long, cold winter.
Zelensky’s trip comes on the 300th day of the Russian invasion.
Zelensky is making the visit at Biden’s personal invitation, a senior administration official said on Tuesday night.
Biden personally invited Zelensky to visit when they spoke on the phone on December 11. The two men speak often and Biden hosted Zelensky at the White House in September 2021 – about five months before Russia invaded.
Polish broadcaster TVN24 said Zelensky crossed into Poland early Wednesday to start his journey.
The station showed footage of what appeared to be Zelensky arriving at a train station and being escorted to a motorcade, the Associated Press reported.
TVN24 said the video, which was partially blurred for security reasons, was shot Wednesday morning in Przemysl, a Polish border town that has been the arrival point for many refugees fleeing the war.
The White House worked with the Ukraine on security arrangements for the trip and acknowledged they knew the risk of Russian action while Zelensky was out of the country.
The official White House invite went out last Wednesday and Zelensky formally accepted the invitation last Friday. The White House then informed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose office invited Zelensky to address a joint session of Congress.
Biden has not visited the Ukraine during the Russian attack unlike other G7 leaders. The security precautions do not allow the American president to make the journey. Biden did visit the border region in Poland, where he met with Ukrainian refugees.
The senior administration official acknowledged the coming winter will be hard for the Ukraine but said the nation had American support.
‘We know that the days ahead, the conflict will continue. The winter will be hard, and we will continue, day in day out to provide critical support to the Ukrainian people,’ the official said.
Zelensky’s visit comes as lawmakers are preparing to pass a federal budget for the next year that includes $44.9 billion for the Ukraine – the biggest amount to date and well above President Joe Biden’s $37 billion request.
The move ensures that funding will flow to the embattled nation for months to come amid questions about whether Republicans, who take control of the House on January 3rd, would continue financial assistance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed retaliation in response to the U.S. giving the Ukraine the Patriot missile defense system – he addressed senior military commanders as Zelensky headed to the United States
The Patriot Missile system is widely considered one of the best and most capable of defending airspace against incoming attacks – Zelensky has long sought it for his country
Zelensky last visited the United States in September 2021 – meeting with President Biden in the Oval Office about five months before Russia invaded
Some Republican lawmakers are wary of continuing to back Ukraine – both through military aid as well as sanctions imposed on Russia.
But the White House denied the visit is about arm-ringing the GOP – even though Congress is voting on the funding measure later this week.
‘This isn’t about sending a message to a particular political party. This is about sending a message to Putin and sending a message to the world that America will be there for Ukraine for as long as it takes,’ the senior administration official said.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Pelosi said she didn’t necessarily believe the incoming Republican majority would be less supportive.
‘I don’t know if that’s the case,’ she said. ‘I feel very strong about the bipartisan support – that may not mean unanimous – but it does mean strong.’
Zelensky on Tuesday met military officials and handed out awards to Ukrainian servicemen, who have been holding back a fierce and months-long Russian campaign for the city
In a video released by his office from the Bakhmut visit, Zelensky was handed a Ukrainian flag and alluded to delivering it to U.S. leaders
The Ukrainian president on Tuesday visited the eastern frontline city of Bakhmut, now the epicenter of fighting in Russia’s nearly 10-month invasion of Ukraine.
Zelensky met military officials and handed out awards to Ukrainian servicemen, who have been holding back a fierce and months-long Russian campaign for the city.
In a video released by his office from the Bakhmut visit, Zelensky was handed a Ukrainian flag and alluded to delivering it to U.S. leaders.
‘The guys handed over our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures for us to pass on,’ he said in the video. ‘We are not in an easy situation. The enemy is increasing its army, and our people are braver and need more powerful weapons. We will pass it on from the boys to the Congress, to the President of the United States. We are grateful for their support, but it is not enough. It is a hint – it is not enough.’