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Zelensky calls for ‘results’ from Washington, not just words of support

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky left Washington securing vocal support from President Biden, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, but his visit was unable to break a congressional deadlock that is holding up billions of dollars of aid for his beleaguered country. 

While Zelensky said he felt support in words from his meetings in Washington, he underscored that he is searching for concrete actions. 

“I got the signal — they were more than positive, but we know that we have to separate words and, in particular, results,” he said in a press conference alongside Biden. “Therefore, we will count on particular results.”

Biden signed off on $200 million in new military assistance during Zelensky’s visit, but lawmakers are unlikely to deliver until 2024 the president’s request for an estimated $61 billion in additional funding to assist Ukraine.

Republicans have drawn a hard line on Biden’s offer: A discussion of changes to U.S. policy at the southern border in exchange for what was expected to be smooth passage for Ukraine aid and other foreign policy priorities. 

“I’m ready and offered compromises already,” Biden said. “Holding Ukraine funding hostage in an attempt to force through an extreme Republican partisan agenda on the border is not how it works.”

Kyiv is now in the middle of one of the most contentious partisan battles in Washington.

“I just don’t think Democrats appreciate, specifically, how committed Republicans are to securing our southern border,” Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.) told The Hill. 

Despite that, Zelensky and his supporters are projecting optimism, buoyed by rhetoric from Democrats and Republicans supportive of Ukraine. 

“I think the Ukrainians have gotten used to our crazy politics,” said Evelyn Farkas, executive director of the McCain Institute at Arizona State University, speaking to a general sense of optimism exhibited by the Ukrainian president when he met with supporters in Washington on Monday evening. 

“Zelensky himself was very positive, he understands that there is deep and broad bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and among the D.C. power players.”

Lawmakers said Zelensky’s visit was not in vain, even as Republicans dug in on holding up Biden’s national security supplemental. 

“I think it helps to see him in person,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“But what would help more is if the administration seriously negotiates a compromise package with Sen. [James] Lankford (R-Okla.), something President Zelensky knows little about.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a member of Senate GOP leadership, said it was important to hear from Zelensky directly and receive an update on the status of the war, but that it did little to influence thinking among Republicans to relent on border policy reform.

“I don’t think it changed any minds,” Ernst said. 

“The issue is not Ukraine, and it’s not President Zelensky. It’s our own national security at our southern border.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said he had a good meeting with Zelensky and spoke in favor of continued U.S. assistance for Ukraine, but he repeated his conditions that Democrats had to yield to major policy changes on the southern border. 

“I have also made very clear since day one that our first condition on any national security supplemental spending package is about our own national security first,” he said.

It was Zelensky’s third visit to Washington within a year, and each visit was marked by his introduction to a different House Speaker, underscoring the fraught and challenging politics in Washington.

“He’s far from naive, I think none of this surprised him,” said Farkas, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia during the Obama administration.

“I can’t speak for him, but he didn’t seem frustrated with these linkages [with the border]. What probably frustrates him is the lack of weapons and the numbers that he wants.”

Zelensky used his visit to Washington to promote Ukraine’s successes in its nearly two-year war against Russia, even as he has acknowledged a summer counteroffensive failed to deliver the battlefield gains they sought to achieve. 

Looking ahead to the next year, Zelensky said the focus will be on scaling up Ukraine’s air defenses and “destroying Russian logistics on Ukraine’s land.”

“It goes without saying that we have objective, we have a clear plan, but if you allow me I am not able to tell you in public on the details of 2024 operations.” 

The Ukrainian president, when asked to comment on giving up any Ukrainian territory as part of potential negotiations with Russia, rejected the idea outright, calling it “insane.” 

“We are talking about human beings — they are being under torture, they are being raped and they have been killed,” Zelensky said, “and those voices which offers to give up our territories, they offer as well to give up our people.

He continued, “I don’t know whose idea it is. But I have a question to these people, are they ready to give up their children to terrorists? I think no.”

Al Weaver contributed.

Source: The Hill

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