© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks to the press following a meeting with International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva at the IMF in Washington, U.S., December 11, 2023. REUTERS/Julia Nikhinson/File Photo
By Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday plans a last-ditch plea to U.S. lawmakers to keep military support flowing as he battles Russia, in visits to the White House and Capitol Hill.
Heading into winter, with tens of thousands of Ukrainians dead, a yawning budget deficit and Russian advances in the east, Zelenskiy is scheduled to press U.S. lawmakers to replenish nearly depleted funding, before meeting with President Joe Biden.
“If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his sick clique,” Zelenskiy said at a speech in Washington on Monday to a U.S. military audience.
Newly declassified U.S. intelligence shows that “Russia seems to believe that a military deadlock through the winter will drain Western support for Ukraine” and ultimately give Russia the advantage despite Russian losses, said Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council.
Ukraine is having success stopping Russian forces but Putin is continuing to order his troops forward despite heavy losses of troops and equipment since October, she added.
There are just three days before Congress recesses for the year on Friday, and Republicans in the House of Representatives have until now refused to pass a $106 billion supplemental bill that contains Ukraine aid without unrelated, fiercely disputed changes to U.S. immigration.
Putin, who said last week he would run for president again in 2024, is betting he can outlast Western aid and attention to score a major strategic victory against the West, Zelenskiy and Biden aides believe. The view is shared by European lawmakers who will send their own last-minute plea to Congress Tuesday.
Biden has cast the situation in stark terms, saying “history is going to judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom’s cause.”
Ultimately, U.S. troops could be forced to fight Russia, Biden and others warn, if an unchecked Putin invades a European ally covered by NATO’s mutual defense commitments.
U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, said in a letter to the Biden administration released last week that lawmakers need more detail on the administration’s objectives in Ukraine and linked the issue to immigration.
“President Biden must satisfy Congressional oversight inquiries about the Administration’s failure thus far to present clearly defined objectives, and its failure to provide essential weapons (for Ukraine) on a timely basis,” Johnson wrote. He added that “supplemental Ukraine funding is dependent upon enactment of transformative change to our nation’s border security laws.”
The White House told Congress on Dec. 4 the government will no longer have funding to provide more weapons for Ukraine after the end of the year. Congress approved more than $110 billion for Ukraine since Russia’s February 2022 invasion but no new funds since Republicans took over the House from Democrats in January.
Bolstered by billions of dollars in U.S. arms, humanitarian aid and intelligence, Ukraine was able to fend off Russia’s initial attempt to sweep the country. But Kyiv failed to break through Russian defensive lines in a major counteroffensive push this year and Russia is now on the offensive in the east.
“As winter approaches, we’re seeing now increased missile and drone attacks by the Russian armed forces against civilian infrastructure,” said White House spokesperson John Kirby (NYSE:) on Monday. “We expect that that will continue, particularly against energy infrastructure.”
Some Republicans, particularly those with the closest ties to former President Donald Trump, oppose more Ukraine aid, and are asking about the war aims and how U.S. money is being spent. It was left out of a stopgap funding bill Congress passed in October to keep the government open.
Both the war and immigration issues are expected to be lightning-rod issues ahead of the 2024 U.S. presidential and congressional elections. Trump and Biden are both seeking the presidency.
About 41% of U.S. adults polled by Reuters/Ipsos last month backed sending weapons to Ukraine, compared to 32% who were opposed and the rest unsure.
Zelenskiy, now on the second day of his trip to Washington, is expected to address U.S. senators at 9 a.m. local time (1400 GMT). He will not address the House, but will meet privately with Johnson.
Biden and Zelenskiy will hold a joint press conference at 4:15 p.m. local time (2115 GMT).
On the eve of Zelenskiy’s visit to Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans expressed dwindling hopes they can reach a border deal with Democrats and pass the supplemental package this week.
“I’m becoming increasingly pessimistic,” Senator Susan Collins, the top Republican on spending, told reporters.
Biden asked Congress for $61.4 billion in Ukraine-related funding in October, including weapons, economic assistance and humanitarian aid. A linked request would provide billions more for Israel’s military, too.