Ukrainian President Zelenskyy will meet Biden and address the US Congress in Washington

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will meet U.S. leader Joe Biden and address Congress in Washington on Wednesday after Vladimir Putin pledged to bolster Russia’s military in Ukraine.
The secretly organized trip comes as the Russian president blamed the West for the “shared tragedy” of the war and said Moscow would develop its military’s nuclear capabilities.
It will be Zelensky’s first trip outside Ukraine since Russian forces invaded in February, when they planned a rapid takeover of Kyiv and much of the country.
Zelenskyy’s visit will “underscore the unwavering commitment of the United States to support Ukraine for as long as it takes,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said.
It comes after nearly 10 months of a war that has seen Russian forces halted by a stubborn Ukrainian army backed by Western weapons, forced to withdraw from captured territory and struggling to avoid further setbacks.
“On the way to the United States to strengthen the resilience and defense capabilities of (Ukraine),” Zelenskyy tweeted, confirming that he will deliver a speech to Congress in person.
Zelenskyy will travel to the White House where Biden is due to announce a new weapons package worth nearly $2 billion which a senior administration official says includes Patriot air defense missiles.
The Patriot missiles are seen as crucial in helping Kyiv repel punitive missile and drone attacks from Russia against its infrastructure.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that further arms deliveries would lead to “aggravation of the conflict” and “did not bode well for Ukraine”.
He added that Moscow does not expect Ukraine to change its position on the peace talks – including refusing to negotiate while Putin is in power – during the visit.
Addressing senior military officials in a televised address, Putin said Moscow was not responsible for the invasion and agreed with an assessment that Russia needed a larger military.
“The combat capabilities of our armed forces are constantly increasing,” Putin said, adding that Russia will also “improve the combat readiness of our nuclear triad.”
“What is happening is, of course, a tragedy – our common tragedy. But it is not the result of our policy. It is the result of the policy of third countries,” he added.
“We have no funding limit. The country and the government give everything the army asks for, everything,” Putin said.
Zelenskyy is also expected to address a joint session of Congress, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said would have “a very particular focus on democracy.”
The visit was quietly planned, beginning with a phone call between Biden and Zelenskyy on December 11, followed by a formal invitation a week ago and confirmation of the visit on Sunday.
Details of the visit were released on Tuesday afternoon, with officials telling US media that there were still security concerns surrounding Zelenskyy’s trip.
Biden and Zelenskyy will discuss weapons and training provided by the United States and its allies, sanctions and other pressure on Russia, and the economic and humanitarian aid Ukraine needs, the senior official said of the White House.
“They will discuss every element of this conflict, including the situation on the battlefield and where the war goes from here,” the official said.
The visit will send Putin “a strong message of unity and determination from the White House, from Washington, from the free world, on behalf of all nations supporting Ukraine,” the official added.
But that does not include pressuring Zelensky to start talks with Putin, the official stressed.
Zelenskyy is flying to the United States after a risky visit to the front line in Bakhmut, where both sides have taken a heavy toll in constant gunfire and shelling over the past two months.
Brutal trench warfare and artillery battles around Bakhmut – once known for its vineyards and salt mines – flattened large parts of the city and surrounding areas.
“Here in the Donbass you protect all of Ukraine,” Zelensky told Ukrainian fighters.
“It’s not just Bakhmut, it’s Bakhmut Fortress,” he said as he presented honors to the Ukrainian military.
The soldiers gave Zelenskyy a Ukrainian flag with their names signed on it and asked him to present it to Biden and Congress.
Zelenskyy said they told him: “We have a difficult situation. The enemy is increasing its numbers. Our guys are braver, but we need more weapons.”

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