Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky will visit Washington on Wednesday for talks with U.S. President Joe Biden and to address Congress in his first known trip abroad since Russia invaded his country in late February.
A senior U.S. official said Biden will announce a new weapons package of nearly $2 billion for Ukraine that will include a Patriot missile battery to help Kyiv defend itself against barrages of Russian missiles.
Zelensky’s visit, which had been organized in secret until details emerged on Tuesday night, was expected to last several hours.
He will hold talks with Biden and top national security aides at the White House, participate in a joint news conference with Biden, and then go to Capitol Hill to address a joint session of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that Biden invited Zelensky to Washington “to underscore the United States’ enduring commitment to Ukraine.”
“The visit will underscore the United States’ steadfast commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes, including through the provision of economic, humanitarian, and military assistance,” she said.
The Zelensky trip takes place 300 days after Russia invaded Ukraine with the aim of capturing Kyiv in days, a goal that quickly fizzled as the strength of Ukraine’s response – aided by billions in weaponry from the United States and allies – made the Ukrainians unexpectedly tough opponents.
Biden’s message to Zelensky, the official said, will be one of resolve and conviction.
Biden will be face-to-face with the man he has spoken with regularly over the past 10 months but not met in person since the war broke out. With Biden’s firm support, the West has rallied behind Ukraine and sought to isolate Russia without getting involved in a direct conflict with Moscow.
Biden will not use the talks to push Zelensky toward the negotiating table with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the official said.
Biden’s administration has been intensifying diplomatic efforts to ensure that the transatlantic alliance that opposes Russia’s invasion maintains unity.
“They will discuss every element of this conflict, including the situation on the battlefield and including the question of where the war goes from here,” the official said.
“The president is not coming with a message that is about pushing or prodding Zelensky in any way. This is going to be a message of solidarity and support, co-ordinating and alignment,” the official said.
The Biden administration has so far provided about $20-billion in military assistance to Ukraine, including artillery ammunition, munitions for NASAMS air defence systems and for high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS).
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The supply of the Patriot missile battery is aimed at improving Ukraine’s air defences against Russian missiles. Ukraine forces will be trained on its use in a third country, the official said.
Reuters reported last week that Germany was the likely location of such training.
Planning for the Zelensky visit has been conducted in secrecy as U.S. and Ukrainian officials sought to get him safely out of his country and to the United States.
The two leaders discussed a possible visit in a Dec. 11 phone call and the White House three days later extended a formal invitation to him, the official said.
Zelensky accepted the invitation last Friday and the visit was confirmed on Sunday, the official said.
Biden has wanted to visit Ukraine but security concerns have forced him to rule it out for now.