WASHINGTON— Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy plans to visit Washington on Wednesday (Dec 21) for a possible meeting with Joe Biden and an address to Congress, United States media reported – his first trip abroad since Russia invaded in February.
The potential White House meeting could feature an expected announcement from Biden of a new arms package for Kyiv including Patriot missiles, according to the reports.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meanwhile told members of Congress in a letter on Tuesday that they should be in attendance the following night.
“Please be present for a very special focus on democracy Wednesday night,” she wrote, without explanation.
Zelenskyy, who has led without rest for 10 months of brutal war with invading Russian forces, has spoken frequently to leaders and supporters around the world, but only by phone and video conference.
His planned trip acknowledges that the US has been the most important supporter of the war effort, already providing an estimated US$50 billion in total aid, including about US$20 billion in security assistance.
On Tuesday, Zelenskyy visited Ukrainian troops in Bakhmut, now the epicenter of fighting, where he described the war-battered city as a frontline “fortress”.
That unannounced trip came as the Kremlin announced that Vladimir Putin would meet senior military officials on Wednesday to weigh up Russia’s full-scale assault on Ukraine so far and set goals for next year after a series a battlefield defeats.
“Here in Donbas, you’re protecting all of Ukraine … They will do everything they’ve done here in other towns of our country, because they don’t want anything Ukrainian to exist, I’m sure of that,” Zelenskyy told his troops in Bakhmut.
“This is not just Bakhmut, this is fortress Bakhmut,” he said, handing out honors to Ukraine servicemen.
The brutal trench warfare and artillery battles around Bakhmut – once known for its vineyards and cavernous salt mines – have flattened large portions of the city and its surroundings.
Putin said this week that the situation in several territories of Ukraine that Moscow claims to have annexed but does not control militarily was “extremely difficult”.
In September, he announced the annexation of four regions in the east and south of Ukraine after Moscow’s proxies held referendums there, denounced as a sham by Kyiv and the West.
Russian troops never fully controlled any of the territories, and last month were forced to retreat from the regional capital of the southern Kherson region after a months-long Ukrainian counteroffensive.
After a series of setbacks and lost territory this summer and autumn, Moscow stepped up its aerial campaign to target Ukraine’s energy grid.
With severe winter conditions setting in, missile and drone attacks have plunged cities around the country into darkness, and severed water and heat supplies to millions of Ukrainians.
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