Zelensky arrives in the US to meet with Biden: Live updates

WASHINGTON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived at the White House on Wednesday in a show of solidarity with President Biden and a plea for continued support from his American allies as his country braces itself for a long, cold winter of war.

Sitting in front of a roaring fire in the Oval Office and speaking in shaky English, Mr Zelensky expressed “all my gratitude, from my heart, from the heart of all Ukrainians” for American support as his forces battle Russian invaders.

Biden told Zelensky that his people “inspire the world” and accused Russian President Vladimir V. Putin for trying to “use winter as a weapon” by attacking civilian targets that provide electricity and heat to millions of people. Mr Biden pledged continued support for the “great people of Ukraine”.

Mr Zelensky presented Mr Biden with a Military Merit Cross, which was presented to him by a soldier on the front line in Ukraine. The soldier, a captain, said Mr Zelensky should give it to the “very brave president” who had saved many lives in his country.

“Undeserved, but much appreciated,” Mr. Biden replied.

Just minutes earlier, Mr. Biden welcomed his Ukrainian counterpart to a ceremony on the South Lawn for what officials said would be two hours of closed-door meetings in which the leaders would reaffirm their determination to defend Ukraine against what they called illegal invasion by Russian forces that began in February.

Mr Zelensky’s visit to the capital of his most powerful benefactor — kept secret until the eve of his arrival for security reasons — is a dramatic show of confidence from the Ukrainian leader, who has not left his country since Russian President Vladimir V. Putin launched his attack 300 days ago.

But it comes at a time when hope for peace looks remote as both sides fear months of continued fighting. In Russia, officials warned that new US arms deliveries would lead to an “escalation of the conflict” and Mr Putin promised his government would provide “everything the army asks for – everything” in its drive for conquest.

Wednesday’s day trip to Washington was designed as a thank you, a victory tour and an advertisement all at once. As he has done since the beginning, Mr. Zelensky intends to be frank with Mr. Biden and later with members of Congress during a speech on Capitol Hill. He is expected to say that his country cannot survive without billions of dollars worth of advanced American military equipment.

“President Zelensky’s visit here is at least partially, perhaps primarily, designed to bolster that support and rejuvenate enthusiasm for Ukraine’s success,” said William B. Taylor, Jr., who served as ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. ” That’s all the Ukrainians will need to prevent a Russian offensive.

Mr. Zelensky will certainly get some, but not all, of what he wants. Congress is just days away from approving nearly $50 billion in additional security and economic aid for Ukraine. The State Department announced the delivery of a Patriot missile battery to help Ukraine defend itself against attacks from the air, but the administration is still rejecting longer-range weapons that could strike deep into Russia and potentially draw the United States into a direct conflict with Mr. Putin and his army.

For Mr. Biden, the highly orchestrated visit is an opportunity to remind Americans why he has committed the United States treasury — though not its soldiers — to protecting the borders of a country on a continent. He will say that this is the only way to guarantee the rights of any country to maintain its sovereignty in the face of flagrant violations of international law.

That decision did not come without sacrifice and political cost for Mr. Biden, who correctly predicted before the war began that Americans would suffer economic consequences as the impact of Europe’s first war in decades spread around the world. Gasoline and food prices soared, helping to boost inflation in the United States and elsewhere.

Now, having rallied dozens of nations to oppose Russia’s invasion, Mr. Biden finds himself having to hold that coalition together longer than anyone in the White House imagined at the start of the war. And he faces a concerted effort by Mr. Putin to break up the alliance by limiting energy resources and attacking civilian areas in Ukraine.

“The most important part of this visit may be to counter Putin’s belief that time is on his side in the war,” said Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Reporting contributed by Emily Cochrane in washington, Anton Troyanovski in Berlin and Andrew E. Kramer in Kyiv.

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