Two people who know the plans say that President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky plan to meet at the White House on Wednesday. This is part of a trip to Washington that is likely to include an address to a joint session of Congress.
Two different sources say that Zelensky is already on his way to Washington for his first trip outside of Ukraine since the Russian invasion started in February of this year.
The visit to the White House, which hasn’t been set in stone and is kept secret because of security concerns, will include a meeting with Vice President Biden and top administration officials. It’s planned to happen simultaneously with the administration’s plan to send the country a new defense aid package. During the expected visit, Biden says that Ukraine will get an extra $1.8 billion in security aid. A US official told CNN that this is a significant increase in reserve, and Patriot missile systems will lead it.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the US has already given the country nearly $20 billion in security aid. This new announcement will add to that amount, and it will come at the same time that US lawmakers are considering a massive spending bill that includes $45 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine. The White House wouldn’t say anything about a possible visit, an announcement from Vice President Biden, or new security assistance announcements.
Zelensky is also scheduled to speak on Capitol Hill on Wednesday evening, but sources say the visit hasn’t been set in stone yet because officials are still making security plans. There were rumors that Zelensky would be at the Capitol on Wednesday, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”
“We still don’t know. She said, “We just don’t know.” CNN asked if he had received the invitation, and she said, “No. Not until we know if he can come or not.”
A trip to Washington by the leader of Ukraine would be an essential event. It’s been ten months since Russia started a war in Ukraine. Zelensky has become the face of Ukrainian resistance to the invasion worldwide and has spent most of the year asking other countries for help.
He has made these requests virtually by beaming into international summits and global legislatures to make his case for more weapons and money. He has stayed in his country throughout the war because he wants to help his besieged country and because his safety would be in danger if he went outside Ukraine.
At the start of the war, Zelensky stayed in the capital city of Kyiv and often spoke to the country from secret places. He has been to some of the war’s fronts more recently. On Tuesday, he went to the frontline city of Bakhmut, which is in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. There, Ukrainian and Russian troops have been fighting hard for months.
His office says that Zelensky met with soldiers and gave out awards. State TV posted a video of the president giving troops prizes while wearing fatigues and a flak vest. Since May, when Russian forces started a severe siege on the city, Bakhmut has been the site of some of the most violent fighting in the whole country.
One member said that Pelosi has been calling members to tell them to come to the Capitol on Wednesday because she worried the chamber would be empty before the holiday break. Pelosi asked members to be there Wednesday night “for an exceptional focus on democracy.”
Several members have said that they think Zelensky will talk to Congress on Wednesday. But the sources warn that this may not be final because of security concerns. Ukraine has asked the US to send an advanced long-range air defense system, which is very good at stopping ballistic and cruise missiles. This is because Russia has been attacking Ukraine with missiles and drones, which have destroyed important infrastructure across the country.
A Patriot missile battery would be the most effective long-range defense system that could be sent to the country, and officials say it will help NATO countries in eastern Europe protect their airspace. Last week, CNN was the first to say that the US would send Patriot systems to Ukraine.
It is unclear how many missile launchers will be sent. Still, a typical Patriot battery has a radar set that finds and tracks targets, computers, power-generating equipment, an engagement control station, and up to eight launchers, each with four ready-to-fire missiles. Officials say that once the plans are finished, the Patriots will ship quickly in the next few days, and Ukrainians will learn how to use them at a US Army base in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
Ukraine has been asking for the system for months, but getting it there and making it work is a huge logistical challenge. Even with these problems, the administration decided because of “the reality of what is going on on the ground,” a senior administration official told CNN, pointing to the fact that Russia is still firing many missiles.
In contrast to smaller air defense systems, Patriot missile batteries need much larger crews, with dozens of people required to run them properly. Training for Patriot missile batteries usually takes several months. The United States will have to do this even though Russia almost always attacks from the air.
Many think the system is one of the best long-range weapons to protect airspace from ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and some aircraft. Because it has a long range and can fly high, it could shoot down Russian missiles and planes far from where they were meant to hit in Ukraine.
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