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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned the US that any wavering it its support for Kyiv would bolster dictatorships around the world, as American funding for Ukraine’s defence against Russia is set to lapse by the end of the month.
“When the free world hesitates, that’s when dictatorships celebrate,” Zelenskyy told the National Defense University in Washington on Monday ahead of meetings planned for Tuesday with US President Joe Biden and congressional leaders.
Zelenskyy’s visit to the US comes at a pivotal moment in Ukraine’s fight against Russian forces which launched a full-blown invasion of the country in February 2022. While Kyiv’s military performed better than expected in the initial phase of the conflict, and proceeded to regain some lost territory with the help of western military aid, a counteroffensive to dislodge Moscow’s forces has stalled in recent months.
Although Biden has asked Congress to provide more than $60bn in additional funds to Ukraine to keep up the fight, Republicans have resisted the request and demanded strict new curbs on immigration at the US southern border in exchange for passage of the bill.
Last week a bill that included more funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan was defeated by Republican opposition in the US Senate.
“If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just [Vladimir] Putin and his sick clique,” Zelenskyy said on Monday of Russia’s leader. “They see their dreams come true when they see the delays.”
With no easy deal in sight, and no approval for additional funding, the Pentagon has started rationing its aid to Ukraine, and has warned it could be stopped altogether by the end of the year.
“Every one of you here understands what it means for a soldier to wait for munitions: waiting for weeks, months, without knowing if support will come,” Zelenskyy told the audience, which included military officers as well as Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary.
“Everyone of you with command experience knows what it means, when instead of moving forward, you’re just watching, waiting for armour or equipment, while your enemy is satisfied and preparing for assaults,” Zelenskyy said.
Introducing the Ukrainian president, Austin said Washington remained determined to help Kyiv fight to “deter Russia from any further aggression — including against our Nato allies”, saying the US would “not flinch in our defence of freedom”.
“Despite his crimes and despite his isolation, Putin still believes that he can outlast Ukraine, and that he can outlast America. But he is wrong,” Austin said. “America’s commitments must be honoured, America’s security must be defended. And America’s word must be kept,” he added.
Earlier on Monday John Kirby, a spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council, said Biden had invited Zelenskyy to Washington at a “critical time”.
“This is exactly the right time to be having President Zelenskyy in town to have these discussions because of what’s going on in Ukraine, the increased activity we’re seeing by the Russian Armed Forces as winter approaches, but also what’s going on Capitol Hill,” Kirby said.