Blinken announces $1 billion drawdown of arms and equipment for Ukraine
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday — just ahead of Zelenskyy’s arrival — a $1 billion drawdown of U.S. arms and equipment for Ukraine, which will include expanded air defense and precision-strike capabilities as well as munitions and other equipment.
“Today’s assistance for the first time includes the Patriot Air Defense System, capable of bringing down cruise missiles, short range ballistic missiles, and aircraft at a significantly higher ceiling than previously provided air defense systems,” Blinken said, further confirming the widely reported news that the U.S. would provide Patriot missiles.
The $1 billion is the 28th drawdown of arms and equipment for Ukraine since August 2021, according to the State Department, and it brings the total U.S. military assistance for Ukraine to $21.9 billion since the beginning of the Biden administration.
The Department of Defense is also announcing a separate $850 million package of security assistance under its Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative on Wednesday.
Photo: Zelenskyy shakes hands with Biden as he arrives
Zelenskyy arrives at the White House
After an overnight journey from Kyiv, Zelenskyy arrived at the White House on Wednesday in his first known trip outside of the country since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
He was met by President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden and a Marine honor guard Wednesday shortly after 2 p.m. He shook hands with the president and first lady and posed with them before the news media before walking into the White House.
Zelenskyy journeyed to the U.S. aboard a U.S. military plane, and he traveled to the White House via car for a bilateral discussion with President Joe Biden shortly after landing.
The two leaders are expected to speak to the news media once they complete their meeting, and then Zelenskyy will travel to Capitol Hill to address Congress. The Ukrainian president’s trip appears to be part of an effort to further secure aid from the U.S. and to galvanize support from lawmakers and the American people.
“I don’t want to get ahead of the president in terms of decisions he has yet to make about what that security assistance will look like,” John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “but clearly, we’re going to make sure that President Zelenskyy, when he leaves this country, knows that he’s leaving with the full support of the United States going forward.”
Zelenskyy says he’s in Washington to ‘thank the American people’
Zelenskyy announced his arrival in Washington, D.C., via his Telegram channel Wednesday.
“I am in Washington today to thank the American people, the President and the Congress for their much-needed support,” he wrote. “And also to continue cooperation to bring our victory closer.”
The Ukrainian president, who is making his first known trip outside of his country since Russia’s invasion, said he and Biden would “hold a series of negotiations to strengthen the resilience and defense capabilities of Ukraine” through continued bilateral cooperation between the two countries.
“Next year, we must return the Ukrainian flag and freedom to our entire land, to all our people,” Zelenskyy added.
Photos: White House rolls out the red carpet for Zelenskyy
White House: ‘Safe to assume’ Zelenskyy was in the motorcade that arrived on Pennsylvania Ave.
The White House said that it was “safe to assume” that a lengthy motorcade that arrived on Pennsylvania Avenue in the early afternoon on Wednesday carried Zelenskyy and his delegation.
The fleet of SUVs, which had government plates but not flags, came to a stop at Blair House, a residence across the street from the White House that is used by foreign dignitaries visiting the president.
Ukrainian flags decorated Pennsylvania Avenue leading to the Capitol.
Zelenskyy traveled on U.S. military aircraft, sources say
Zelenskyy traveled on U.S. military aircraft to Washington and will do the same when he departs, two U.S. officials told NBC News.
The U.S. has been involved in security logistics and provided travel assistance throughout his journey, multiple officials said. One official added that NATO allies provided fighter jets to help with escorts during transit.
A Ukrainian flag could be seen flying over Blair House, a residence across the street from the White House where foreign dignitaries typically stay when visiting the U.S.
Mike Memoli and Sally Bronston contributed reporting.
McConnell calls Ukraine aid a ‘direct investment’ in U.S. interests
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said just prior to Zelenskyy’s arrival in the U.S. Wednesday that supporting Ukraine is “morally right” and a “direct investment in cold hard American interests.”
The longtime GOP leader also called for more support for Ukraine, and said that Republicans “pushed hard” for increased security assistance.
“The reason is that a big bipartisan majority of the American people and a big bipartisan majority in Congress support continuing to assist Ukraine is not primarily about inspiring speeches or desire to engage in philanthropy,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “The Ukrainian people are courageous and innocent, and they deserve our help. President Zelenskyy is an inspiring leader. But the most basic reasons for continuing to help Ukraine degrade and defeat the Russian invaders are cold, hard, practical, American interests.”
He added: “By assisting Ukraine today, America is directly demonstrating our commitment to the basic principles of territorial integrity and national sovereignty, changing the calculus for others considering military aggression and lowering the odds of a far costlier and far more deadly future conflicts in the process. So I’ll say it one more time: Continuing our support, continuing our support for Ukraine is morally right, but it’s not only that, it’s also a direct investment in cold hard American interests.”
Senate overwhelmingly confirms new U.S. ambassador to Russia
The Senate voted 93-2 on Wednesday to confirm Lynne Tracy to be the U.S. ambassador to Russia.
Tracy, who was serving as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, only needed a simple majority to be confirmed. She was expected to receive that support easily and did on Wednesday.
Her confirmation comes at a key moment, as diplomatic tensions between Washington and Moscow are at their highest since the Cold War due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Tracy, a longtime foreign service officer and diplomat, replaces former Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan, who served under Biden and then-President Donald Trump before departing the post around the time his wife died of cancer.
Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah were the two no votes. Paul tweeted earlier in the day that it was “a mistake to send an Ambassador to Russia who supports putting Ukraine and Georgia in Nato.”
Head of Ukraine trains ‘a bit nervous’ for Zelenskyy to fly
Alexander Kamyshin, CEO of state-owned Ukrainian Railways, said he was “a bit nervous” about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy flying to Washington on Wednesday.
“First time since the beginning of the war my President goes for a trip not by train,” he wrote on Twitter, concluding the tweet with the word “nervous.”
He said he “forgot the name for that transport vehicle that flies,” alluding to the fact that few planes — outside of those owned by the military — take to the sky in Ukraine. Train travel has become essential in Ukraine for passengers, including refugees fleeing the Russian invasion, as well as visiting dignitaries, the country’s military and its leaders.
José Andrés, the Washington, D.C., chef whose World Central Kitchen has provided food and supplies to Ukraine, tweeted back, “We will take care of him!!!!”
Pelosi releases letter that contains Zelenskyy’s invite to speak
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released the letter she sent Tuesday inviting Zelenskyy to speak Wednesday evening to both chambers of Congress.
Sent “on behalf of bipartisan Congressional leadership,” the letter applauded the Ukrainian people and its fighters for their “iron will” and “unbreakable spirit” and asked for the Ukrainian leader to address a joint meeting of Congress.
“The fight for Ukraine is the fight for democracy itself,” Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote. “We look forward to hearing your inspiring message of unity, resilience and determination. Thank you for your leadership and consideration of this request.”
Zelenskyy has landed in the U.S.
A senior Ukrainian official confirms to NBC News that Zelenskyy has landed in the United States.
He’s expected to visit the White House before addressing a joint session of Congress at the Capitol.
Sen. Coons says Zelenskyy’s trip comes at ‘critical moment’
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., wore a blue and yellow tie in the halls of Congress on Wednesday to match the Ukrainian flag’s colors. He said Zelenskyy’s visit was a “critical moment” for Congress and Americans to understand how essential its “support is to the success of their fight against Russia.”
“President Biden today gets a chance to remind the American people what we’ve accomplished by pulling together our allies throughout the world to stand for freedom,” he said.
Though Congress is poised to pass a spending package that includes additional support for the country’s fight against Russia, GOP support for future funds is not assured.
Coons said the audience for the speech is “the American people,” which he said includes “the new House majority” that is skeptical of Ukraine aid. Republicans retook the House in November’s midterms.
“It’s a huge investment,” Coons said. “So I have Delawareans asking me: Why are we in this fight? Why does it matter to us? It’s important for President Zelenskyy to say thank you to the American people and to clarify why they’re fighting what they’re fighting for, and what difference it’s going to make.”
Zelenskyy’s other recent surprise visit was to the front lines
On Tuesday, Zelenskyy made a surprise visit to greet troops on the front lines in Bakhmut, an eastern city that has seen months of intense fighting with Ukrainian forces largely holding out against Russian attacks.
There, Zelenskyy appeared to allude to the trip to Washington before the official announcement. A group of soldiers who helped defend Bakhmut gave him a Ukrainian flag and asked him to get it to Congress — and the Ukrainian president promised to give it to Biden himself.
“The guys handed over our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures for us to pass on,” Zelenskyy said, according to The Associated Press. “We are not in an easy situation. The enemy is increasing its army. Our people are braver and need more powerful weapons. We will pass it on from the boys to the Congress, to the president of the United States. We are grateful for their support, but it is not enough.”
Biden says he is ‘thrilled’ to host Zelenskyy: ‘Much to discuss’
Zelenskyy to meet with Biden and address Congress in Washington
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will meet with President Joe Biden and deliver an address to members of Congress during a visit to Washington on Wednesday, his first known trip outside of the country since Russia invaded about 10 months ago.
The visit comes at a crucial moment in the conflict, as winter weather slows progress on the ground after a flurry of Ukrainian successes and as Republicans prepare to take control of the House while Kyiv pushes for greater support from its Western allies.
Zelenskyy said in a tweet early Wednesday that he was traveling to the U.S. “to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities” of his country.