Hope dwindling Zelenskyy's US visit will result in $60bn in Ukraine aid

Biden administration says US support for Ukraine is 'unshakeable' but Congress is divided

US President Joe Biden, right, and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Abaca / Bloomberg
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was set to leave Washington empty handed on Tuesday after his appeal for billions more dollars in military assistance failed to move key Republicans, a potentially devastating blow for Kyiv as it tries to repel Russia's invasion.

After hosting Mr Zelenskyy at the White House for a last-minute visit, President Joe Biden told reporters he thought a deal could be reached to sway Congress to continue funding Kyiv's defences against Russia.

But conservatives appear determined to hold up new funding due to a domestic dispute over policy on the US-Mexico border, having grown weary of paying for a conflict that will soon be in its third year.

Republicans blocked a bill in the Senate last week that would have provided aid to Kyiv and Israel in its war in Gaza, and there were no signs of change after Mr Zelenskyy's visit.

The Ukrainian President refrained from publicly engaging in US partisan discourse. He remained resolute on the need for support from Washington, pointing to how Ukraine's counter-offensive against Russia had ground to a halt.

“We are fighting for our country and freedom and also in Europe, for our freedom, and yours,” Mr Zelenskyy told reporters at a joint press conference after his meeting with his US counterpart. He added that ceding any territory to Russia would be “insane”.

“It's very important that by the end of this year, we can send a very strong signal of our unity to the [Russian] aggressor, and the unity of Ukraine, America, Europe, the entire free world … we dream of peacetime for Christmas,” he added.

Mr Biden announced on Tuesday that he authorised another $200 million drawdown for Ukraine, and again urged Congress to come together and make more funding available.

“Congress needs to pass the supplemental funding for Ukraine before they break for the holiday break time, before they give [Russian President Vladimir] Putin the greatest Christmas gift they could ever give him,” he said, alongside Mr Zelenskyy in the White House Oval Office.

Later, at the joint press conference with Mr Zelenskyy, the US President said his team was “working with Senate Democrats and Republicans to try to find a bipartisan compromise”.

“Holding Ukraine funding hostage in an attempt to force through an extreme Republican partisan agenda on the border is not how it works,” Mr Biden said.

Mr Zelenskyy was at Capitol Hill on Tuesday in a final attempt to sway Republicans, but there was no sign they would budge.

The Ukrainian President met Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, who earlier told party members that policy change on the southern border with Mexico should be “their hill to die on” before passing the supplemental budget request, AP reported.

Mr Johnson does not seem keen to keep Congress in Washington beyond this week, with politicians keen to leave town for the holiday break.

On Tuesday morning he told a radio show that he was “not going to have everybody sit here through Christmas twiddling their thumbs” while the Senate works to get closer to a deal.

In its bid to build urgency, the Biden administration declassified intelligence this week on the situation in Ukraine to help make its case, according to reports.

And the US Treasury Department imposed sweeping new sanctions on more than 150 people and entities accused of “supplying Russia’s military-industrial base”, in a bid to “tighten the vice on willing third-country suppliers”.

“The Kremlin has steadily turned Russia into a wartime economy, but Putin’s war machine cannot survive on domestic production alone,” said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a Tuesday statement.

The Biden administration and Congress have directed more than $75 billion in assistance to Ukraine, which includes humanitarian, financial and military support, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research institute.

That is just a small amount less than all other western allies combined.

Mr Zelenskyy's tour of Washington began on Monday, when he delivered a renewed message of urgency alongside Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to students at the National Defence University.

“Every one of you with command experience knows what it means when instead of moving forward, you're just watching, waiting for armour or equipment while your enemy is satisfied and preparing for assaults,” he told the Pentagon-funded university.

“Let me be frank with you, friends. If there's anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it is just Putin.”

Recent polling from Pew Research has shown that “partisan differences over Ukraine aid have grown wider” in the US.

Research published last week showed that 48 per cent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the US is giving too much aid to Ukraine.

This share is “substantially higher than it was at earlier stages in the war”.

But only 16 per cent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents consider the current level of US aid to be excessive.

About four in 10 Democrats say the US is providing the right amount of aid, while about a quarter say it is not providing enough assistance, Pew said.

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Updated: December 13, 2023, 2:33 AM