WASHINGTON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy kicked off a quick visit to Washington on Monday, warning in a speech to a defense university that Russia may be fighting in Ukraine but its “real target is freedom” in America and around the world. He also issued a personal plea for Congress to break its deadlock and approve continued support for Ukraine.
His time in Washington, which will include meetings on Tuesday at the White House and with Congress, is part of a last-minute push by the Biden administration to convince lawmakers to pass a supplemental funding bill, as officials warn that the money for Ukraine is running out.
President Joe Biden has asked Congress for $61.4 billion for wartime funding for Ukraine as part of a $110 billion package that also includes money for Israel and other national security priorities. But the request is caught up in a debate over U.S. immigration policy and border security. The U.S. has already provided Ukraine $111 billion for its fight against Russia’s 2022 invasion.
“If there’s anyone inspired by unresolved issues on Capitol Hill, it’s just (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his secret clique,” Zelenskyy told an audience of military leaders and students at the National Defense University. “Ukrainians haven’t given up and won’t give up. We know what to do. And you can count on Ukraine. And we hope just as much to be able to count on you.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who introduced the Ukrainian president, said America’s commitment to Ukraine is unshakeable and supporting the war is critical to ensuring the security of the U.S. and its allies.
“America’s commitments must be honored. America’s security must be defended. And America’s word must be kept,” Austin said.
He said Zelenskyy is “living proof that a single person’s leadership can help rally an embattled democracy and inspire the free world and change the course of history.”
With Congress in its final work week before leaving for the holidays, questions remain as to whether Republicans will be able to come to an agreement on any rounds of future funding for Ukraine or Israel without White House concessions on additional border security as illegal crossings surge. But any border package also runs the risk of alienating some Democrats.
According to the Defense Department, there is about $4.8 billion remaining in presidential drawdown authority, which pulls weapons from existing U.S. stockpiles and sends them quickly to the war front, and about $1.1 billion left in funding to replenish the U.S. military stockpiles.
John Kirby, the White House National Security Council spokesman, told reporters Monday that Zelenskyy’s visit comes at a critical time.
“This is exactly the right time to be having President Zelenskyy in town to have these discussions, because of what’s going on in Ukraine, the increased activity we’re seeing by the Russian armed forces as winter approaches, but also what’s going on on Capitol Hill,” said Kirby.
He said Biden will make clear to Zelenskyy when they meet that the White House is standing firm on the supplemental budget request. White House spokesman Andrew Bates said top Office of Management and Budget, National Security Council and White House legislative affairs officials have continued to press the case for the funding.
Associated Press reporters Aamer Madhani and Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.
Tara Copp is a Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press. She was previously Pentagon bureau chief for Sightline Media Group.