Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is planning to visit Washington on Wednesday and may meet US President Joe Biden at the White House, according to four people familiar with the planning, reported New York Times (NYT).
It would be Zelenskyy’s first foreign trip since the Russian invasion in February, a surprise visit that could change security concerns. He is also expected to address the Congress. However, the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about Zelenskyy’s safety, cautioned that the plans were not final and could change, reported NYT.
The risks involved in such a visit — with the wartime leader leaving his country for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine — are high, and tight secrecy would surround any such effort.
The visit, which hasn’t been finalised and has remained tightly held due to security concerns, will coincide with the administration’s intent to send the country a new defence assistance package that will include Patriot missile systems.
The White House declined to comment on a potential visit or Biden announcement or new security assistance announcements, reported CNN.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not confirm reports Zelensky would be coming to the Capitol on Wednesday, saying, “I don’t know that that’s going to happen. We don’t know yet. We just don’t know,” she said.
There were suggestions that an unusual session of the Congress was in the works. Speaker Pelosi of California earlier on Tuesday sent a letter to all House lawmakers asking them to attend the Wednesday night session in person, even though lawmakers retain the ability to vote remotely, reported NYT.
A visit by the Ukrainian leader to Washington would amount to a significant moment 10 months after Russia’s war in Ukraine began.
Zelenskyy has emerged as an international personification of Ukrainian resistance to the invasion and has spent much of the year asking nations for support.
Earlier, in a surprise visit to the battered city of Bakhmut on Tuesday, Zelenskyy was presented with a flag by Ukrainian soldiers who asked that he present it to Congress.
He promised to give it to President Biden, according to Ukrainian media who joined him on the trip. While his office had no official comment on any looming trip, the moment was captured on camera, reported NYT.
It was not clear, however, that Zelenskyy was actually preparing to imminently leave the country for the first time since the war began.
The appearance would mark a potentially electrifying moment as Democratic control of the House — and Pelosi’s reign as a speaker and a member of Democratic leadership — comes to a conclusion, with Republicans set to take over on January 3.
It would also put Republicans on Capitol Hill — opposed to a newly released plan to provide nearly USD 50 billion to the war-torn country, as well as a broader spending package to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the week — in the potentially uncomfortable position of opposing the aid even as the Ukrainian leader appears on Capitol Hill, reported NYT.
Some Republicans in the House have repeatedly opposed previous packages that sent billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid, suggesting the money is wasteful and could be better spent in the United States.
Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado, a far-right Republican, posted on Twitter scoffing at the release of the new aid.
“In case you haven’t heard, our government wants to send yet another USD 47 billion to Ukraine,” Boebert said on Twitter. “Yes, really.”
In terms of overall spending on direct military support since the start of the conflict, the US has committed USD 18.5 billion, far more than any other individual country (to 20 November).
Meanwhile, Russia has been targeting Ukraine’s energy sector, plunging millions into darkness in winter temperatures several degrees below freezing.