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News > World

US Spent Months Arranging Zelensky Visit to Prolong War​​​​​​​

  • President Volodymyr Zelensky's reflection on the framed Capitol flag, Dec. 23, 2022.

    President Volodymyr Zelensky's reflection on the framed Capitol flag, Dec. 23, 2022. | Photo: Twitter/ @be_assoc

Published 23 December 2022

The idea of inviting the Ukrainian president for an in-person speech to members of the U.S. Congress had been floated by Nancy Pelosi as early as October.

Months in the making, President Volodymyr Zelensky's surprise visit to Washington turned out to be a meticulously designed plan involving the Executive and Legislative branches, aimed at showcasing solidarity with Ukraine.


Prolongation of the Ukrainian Conflict Hinders Global Recovery

The idea of inviting Zelensky for an in-person speech to members of the U.S. Congress had been floated by the outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as early as October at a summit in Zagreb, Croatia. Meanwhile, officials in the Biden administration have for the last several months been discussing with their Ukraine the feasibility of a White House visit by Zelensky.

Only several hours before his eventual arrival in Washington, a senior administration official briefed reporters on a timeline of how the previously highly secretive trip was nailed.

Biden discussed the trip with Zelensky during a Dec. 11 phone call, the official said, and a formal invitation from the White House was sent on Dec. 14 to the Ukrainian presidential office, which accepted the offer two days thereafter, leading to last Sunday's final confirmation of the visit. At that time, the administration engaged with Pelosi's office to arrange Zelensky's congressional speech.

The above information, together with a formal announcement of the visit by Biden's press secretary, was made public merely 13 hours before the limousine carrying Zelensky pulled in front of the White House portico, where Biden stood to welcome his long-awaited guest.

The U.S. took extraordinary measures to escort Zelensky to his expressly preferred destination for his first foreign trip since the conflict with Russia broke out nearly 10 months ago.

On Wednesday morning local time, Zelensky was spotted by Polish media at a train station in the town of Przemysl near the Polish-Ukrainian border, walking on the platform and into a Ukrainian train believed to have transferred him during an overnight ride from the frontline Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, where the president had recently visited soldiers fighting there.

Zelensky and his entourage were then seen getting into a convoy of cars reportedly belonging to the U.S. embassy in Ukraine. He was accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink while en route to Rzeszow, where he boarded a U.S. Air Force jet to fly non-stop to Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington, D.C.

It was Wednesday noon on the East Coast when the flight, after being escorted by a U.S. F-15 fighter jet while in the air, touched down on the tarmac of the military airport.

In pursuit of pomp and circumstance -- and publicity -- the White House made Biden's welcome ceremony for Zelensky an open-press event, granting journalists easier-than-usual access. The ceremony lasted less than 10 minutes. The two presidents briefly chatted, ignoring questions from the press, before entering the White House.

Putting aside all expressions of solidarity with Ukraine from Biden and gratitude from Zelensky, the delivery of a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine, of which the announcement from Biden had long been expected, is the most concrete and consequential in terms of U.S. support.

Touted by the senior administration official at Tuesday's briefing as "a critical asset to defend the Ukrainian people" in their conflict with Russia, the Patriot was nonetheless seen by Zelensky as not enough.

"What's going to happen after the Patriot is installed?" Zelensky said while speaking at a joint press conference after meeting with Biden. "After that, we will signal to President Biden that we would like to get more Patriots."

As the Biden administration has been all but certain to announce the delivery of the Patriot battery to Ukraine over the last few weeks, Russia warned that such a move would bring about "consequences."

Zelensky ended his whirlwind trip with a passionate speech delivered in English at a joint session of Congress. In the address, the Ukrainian leader again asked for more support from lawmakers not only in the form of military aid but also by assisting the implementation of a peace plan he proposed.

Following the announcement of the Patriot battery delivery to Kiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia would be able to "crack the Patriots as well."

"Now they say they can install 'Patriots.' Well, let them. We will also crack the Patriots," Putin said at a press conference.

Meanwhile, the Russian president said that his country would strive to end the conflict in Ukraine. "We will strive to ensure that this is completed, and the sooner, the better, of course."

When Zelensky was back in Europe on Thursday, again stopping by Poland before crossing the border into Ukraine, the Senate passed the US$1.7-trillion government funding bill for next year, with US$45 billion of emergency assistance for Ukraine, the biggest such appropriation from Congress so far.

With the sweeping omnibus spending bill now heading to the House and expected to land on Biden's desk for his signature as soon as Friday, lawmakers saw themselves getting closer to having a Merry Christmas without being held accountable for a war to be further prolonged on the European continent.

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