WASHINGTON: Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky sought to bolster US support for his country in Washington on Thursday, as he met with President Joe Biden amid scepticism among Republicans in Congress over a new round of military aid to defend against Russia.

After seeking international support at the UN Wednesday, Zelensky came to Washington on a crosstown blitz that included meetings with military leaders at the Pentagon and a visit to the U.S. Capitol ahead of an address in the evening at the National Archives museum.

Biden, who was set to announce a new US$325 million military aid package for Ukraine, lauded the bravery of the Ukrainian people as he met Zelensky in the Oval Office.

“Together with our partners and allies, the American people are determined to see to it to that (we do) all we can to ensure that the world stands with you,” Biden said in comments at the start of their meeting.

Zelensky said Ukraine greatly appreciates US assistance “to combat Russian terror” and said he would discuss Ukraine’s defence needs with Biden, with a special emphasis on air defence.

“Today I’m in Washington to strengthen our ability to defend Ukrainian children, our families, our homes, freedom and democracy in the world,” he added.

While Biden and most congressional leaders still support aid to Ukraine, and Biden’s Democrats control the Senate, Zelensky faced a tougher crowd than when he visited Washington nine months ago.

Dressed in military green to reflect his status as a wartime leader, Zelensky briefed the full US Senate in the Capitol’s historic Old Senate Chamber, receiving several standing ovations, according to a post on the platform X by Senator Chris Murphy.

Zelensky told Senators that military aid was crucial to Ukraine’s war effort, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in the Senate chamber after the briefing, which took place behind closed doors.

“If we don’t get the aid, we will lose the war,” Schumer quoted Zelensky as saying.

Zelensky later described his meetings with lawmakers as frank and constructive.

Zelensky held discussions with US defence secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior Pentagon leaders. He visited the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial where he and his wife each placed a bouquet of sunflowers, irises and other flowers.

New aid package

As Ukraine’s military counter-offensive grinds on and Congress stages a bitter debate over spending ahead of a possible government shutdown, a growing chorus of Republicans have questioned the billions of dollars Washington has sent Kyiv for military, economic and humanitarian needs.

“What is the point of cutting off support now when we’re at a turning point in the war?” said Schumer, a Democrat, taking aim at Republican critics of the aid. “Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas when it comes to helping Ukraine.”

The US has sent some US$113 billion in security and humanitarian aid to help Zelensky’s government since Russia invaded in February 2022.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration was focused on making sure there was the necessary support and resources for Ukraine.

“I believe, based on my consultations on the Hill with both Republicans and Democrats, that there will be,” Sullivan on Thursday said at a White House news briefing.

Biden will announce a new military aid package for Ukraine including air defence systems and other weaponry to help Kyiv ahead of a tough winter, Sullivan said.

The package will also include the second tranche of cluster munitions fired by a 155mm Howitzer cannon, according to a US official.

Russia carried out its biggest missile attack in weeks across Ukraine on Thursday, pounding energy facilities in what officials said appeared to be the first salvo in a new air campaign against the Ukrainian power grid.

‘Enough is enough’

Solid majorities of Americans support providing weaponry to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia, Reuters/Ipsos polling shows.

Biden administration officials held a classified briefing for Congress on Wednesday evening to push for an additional US$24 billion, saying if Russian president Vladimir Putin was allowed to take control of Ukraine and pushed through to the border of Nato, the cost to the US would be much higher.

But some Republicans were not convinced.

Republican senator JD Vance said the US “is being asked to fund an indefinite conflict with unlimited resources.”

“Enough is enough,” he said in a post on X, which included a letter dated Thursday to the director of the Office of Management and Budget questioning the aid and signed by Republicans from both houses of Congress.

Congress approved Ukraine assistance easily when both the Senate and House were controlled by Democrats. Zelensky, who has become a powerful advocate for his country, was greeted as a hero when he addressed a joint meeting of Congress in December. - Reuters

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