Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will meet his US counterpart Joe Biden and address Congress in Washington on Wednesday, a visit the White House says will send Russia a strong message of Western unity.
The secretly arranged trip comes on the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to meet with his top military officials to assess the conflict in Ukraine and set goals for the coming year in what the Kremlin described as an “important speech.” and bulky.”
The visit “will underscore the United States’ strong commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.
It will be Zelensky’s first trip out of Ukraine since Russian forces invaded in February planning a quick takeover of Kyiv and much of the country.
Instead, the visit to Washington comes on the 300th day of a war in which Russian forces have been held up by a stubborn Ukrainian army backed by Western weapons, forced to withdraw from captured territory and fight to avoid further setbacks.
“I am on my way to the United States to strengthen (Ukraine’s) resilience and defense capabilities,” Zelensky tweeted, confirming that he will address Congress.
Zelensky will visit the White House where Biden will announce a new weapons package worth nearly $2 billion that a senior administration official says includes Patriot air defense missiles.
The Patriot missiles are seen as crucial in helping Kyiv fend off Russian missile and drone attacks on its infrastructure.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that further arms deliveries would lead to an “aggravation of the conflict” and do not “bode well for Ukraine.”
He added that during the visit, Moscow does not expect Ukraine to change its stance on peace talks, including refusing to negotiate while Putin is in power.
Zelensky is also expected to address a joint session of Congress, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said would be “a very special focus on democracy.”
The visit was planned quietly, beginning with a phone call between Biden and Zelensky on December 11, followed by a formal invitation a week ago and confirmation of the visit on Sunday.
Details of the visit leaked Tuesday afternoon, with officials stressing to US media that there were still security concerns over Zelensky’s trip.