Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to lawmakers on Thursday for continued support in the war with Russia amid Republican skepticism over whether Congress should approve a new round of aid for his country.
After seeking to shore up international support at the United Nations, Zelenskiy came to Washington on a crosstown blitz that includes a meeting with military leaders at the Pentagon, President Joe Biden and an address in the evening at the National Archives museum.
While Biden and most congressional leaders still support aid to Ukraine, and Biden’s Democrats control the Senate, Zelenskiy faces a tougher crowd than when he visited Washington nine months ago.
Dressed in military green to reflect his status as a wartime leader, Zelenskiy briefed the full U.S. Senate in the Capitol’s historic Old Senate Chamber, receiving several standing ovations, according to a post on the platform X by Senator Chris Murphy.
“We had great dialogue,” Zelenskiy told reporters at the Capitol after the meeting.
Zelenskiy told Senators that military aid was crucial to Ukraine’s war effort, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in the Senate chamber after the briefing, which took place behind closed doors.
“If we don’t get the aid, we will lose the war,” Schumer quoted Zelenskiy as saying.
At the Pentagon, Zelenskiy was greeted by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and was set to visit to a memorial to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’
As Ukraine’s military counteroffensive grinds on and Congress stages a bitter debate over spending ahead of a possible government shutdown, a growing chorus of Republicans have questioned the billions of dollars Washington has sent Kyiv for military, economic and humanitarian needs.
“What is the point of cutting off support now when we’re at a turning point in the war?” said Schumer, a Democrat, taking aim at Republican critics of the aid. “Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas when it comes to helping Ukraine.”
The U.S. has sent some $113 billion in security and humanitarian aid to help Zelenskiy’s government since Russia invaded in February 2022.
Russia carried out its biggest missile attack in weeks across Ukraine on Thursday, pounding energy facilities in what officials said appeared to be the first salvo in a new air campaign against the Ukrainian power grid.
Zelenskiy on Wednesday pressed his case for financial help with some of America’s best known billionaires who made their fortunes in industries ranging from finance to tech and sports.
Biden administration officials held a classified briefing for Congress on Wednesday evening, to push for an additional $24 billion, saying if Russian President Vladimir Putin was allowed to take control of Ukraine and pushed through to the border of NATO, the cost to the United States would be much higher.
But some Republicans were not convinced.
Republican Senator J.D. Vance said the United States “is being asked to fund an indefinite conflict with unlimited resources.”
“Enough is enough,” he said in a post on X, which included a letter dated Thursday to the director of the Office of Management and Budget questioning the aid and signed by Republicans from both houses of Congress.
Biden will announce a new $325 million military aid package for Ukraine, which is expected to include the second tranche of cluster munitions fired by a 155 millimeter Howitzer cannon.
“If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?” Biden asked world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday.
Congress approved Ukraine assistance easily when both the Senate and House were controlled by Democrats. Zelenskiy, who has become a powerful advocate for his country, was greeted as a hero when he addressed a joint meeting of Congress in December.
Support in the Senate, both from Biden’s fellow Democrats and Republicans, has remained strong.
“Our nation has a fundamental interest in Ukrainian victory and European security,” Senate Republican Leader McConnell said on Wednesday in a speech criticizing Biden for acting too slowly to help Ukraine.
Solid majorities of Americans support providing weaponry to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia, Reuters/Ipsos polling shows.
But some of the Republicans who took narrow control of the House in January are questioning the wisdom of continuing to send funds to Kyiv. About a third of the House Republican caucus voted in July for a failed proposal to cut funding for Ukraine.