Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a historic speech to a rare joint session of Congress on Wednesday, thanking the US for helping his country resist an ongoing invasion and warning that significant fighting lies ahead.
“Ukraine is alive and kicking,” Zelenskyy said. “Our two nations are allies in this battle, and next year will be a turning point.”
The Ukrainian leader noted that because of the way US support has become critical to his nation’s resistance, American lawmakers’ decisions about continued aid to Ukraine “can save millions of people.”
Zelenskyy’s trip to Washington is his first outside Ukraine since the Russian offensive began on Feb. 24. He addressed lawmakers after meeting with President Joe Biden in the afternoon — a summit that included an announcement of new White House support for Ukraine, including the transfer of the sophisticated Patriot missile defense system. Separately, legislators from both parties agreed earlier this week to grant Ukraine $45 billion in additional military aid.
A growing number of Republicans have questioned US assistance for Ukraine. The skeptics’ arguments range from the technical — proposing audits to ensure weapons are used as intended — to the conspiratorial, amid claims by far-right figures like Fox News host Tucker Carlson that weapons manufacturers are colluding with the Ukrainians to prolong the war.
The group includes Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who is expected to wield significant power in the House of Representatives once the GOP takes over the chamber next year. Greene bashed Zelenskyy’s visit as “absurd,” calling him the United States’ “shadow president.”
A senior Biden administration official on Tuesday downplayed the idea that Zelenskyy’s visit was designed to rally support and win over Republican critics, saying it was instead intended to signal resilience to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, some prominent conservatives in and close to Congress — like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Bradley Bowman, a scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank — expressed continued support for Ukraine.
“Our support for Kyiv is not charity,” wrote Bowman, a former GOP congressional aide, on Twitter. “We aren’t doing Ukraine favors. We have a partner willing to fight hard to defend our common interests and principles.”
Still, legislators are seen as unlikely to approve more major assistance to the Ukrainians once Republicans run the House — an alarming prospect for Zelenskyy, who has pledged to retake Russian-occupied territory but faces a much better-armed opponent in Putin.
Earlier Wednesday, Rep. Ralph Norman (RS.C.) of the increasingly powerful House Freedom Caucus told Politico he refused to attend the Zelenskyy address and could not imagine supporting more funding for Ukraine.
“His words will not change my mind,” Norman reportedly said.