Zelensky makes passionate plea to US lawmakers on key Washington visit

Volodymyr Zelensky made a passionate plea to American lawmakers at Capitol Hill as his second trip to Washington – since the Ukraine invasion – came to an end.

The Ukrainian president got a $325m aid package from the Biden administration as he wrapped up his second visit, said to be more muted compared to the hype that surrounded his earlier one.

However, senate majority leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday summed up an impassioned plea made by the wartime president to American lawmakers even as Republicans debate flow of financial aid to Ukraine for more than 20 months now.

“There was a single sentence that summed it all up, and I’m quoting him verbatim. Mr Zelensky said: ‘If we don’t get the aid we will lose the war’,” Mr Schumer told reporters.

The president also held private talks with both Republican and Democratic leaders to relay Kyiv’s message for further aid and help push Russia from its territory as the war appears to enter another looming winter.

President Joe Biden said he is “counting on the good judgment of the United States Congress” in the absence of an alternative to aid Ukraine against the biggest military warfare ever since the Second World War.

US lawmakers quoted Mr Zelensky as saying that the Ukrainians have a solid war plan and “they are winning”.

Independent senators, however, noted Mr Zelensky “conceded that it’s tough, very tough to overcome entrenched defences”.

“They believe they will make slow but steady progress, but it’s not going to be quick,” said independent senator Angus King.

After wrapping up his second day in the US, Mr Zelensky called it an important trip to Washington DC.

“There is a new defence package: air defence, artillery, shells, engineering equipment. There is also a long-term agreement – we will work together for Ukraine to produce the necessary weapons together with the United States,” he said.

“My day began on Capitol Hill with candid and extensive discussions. Both chambers and parties. I sensed trust, which fosters unity.

“Members of Congress asked direct questions and received candid responses. Transparency is our top priority in our relations with the US. I also had important defence talks at the Pentagon,” he said.

The Ukrainian president received a red-carpet welcome on the White House South lawn and attended more ceremonies than offered to other world leaders on visits to the administration.

In a setback, the Biden administration’s request to Congress for an additional $24bn for Ukraine’s military and humanitarian needs is hanging in the balance. Resistance to the latest request could lead to delays or reductions.

The latest package, secretary of state Antony Blinken said, would include additional air defence, artillery ammunition, cluster munitions and other arms.

House speaker Kevin McCarthy said he declined Mr Zelensky’s request for a joint session of Congress, as had happened during the Ukrainian president’s visit to Washington last winter, saying there wasn’t time for it on short notice.

But the Republican leader praised answers the Ukrainian delegation offered to lawmakers.

“It was direct, I thought it was honest, they were answering the questions,” Mr McCarthy said. “I heard a lot of positive things.”

Lawmakers who attended the private meeting described questioning Mr Zelensky on the way forward for Ukraine’s counteroffensive, as the fight to roll back invading Russian forces moves closer to the two-year mark without major breakthroughs.

With Mr Zelensky’s visit, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration is looking to underline the message that the US and the world “send the unmistakable message that in the 21st century, a dictator cannot be allowed to conquer or carve up his neighbour’s territory”.

“If we allow that here. it will happen elsewhere in ways that will undermine fundamental security, not to mention the values that the American people hold so dear,” Mr Sullivan said.

Mr Zelensky departed for Canada after wrapping up his meetings in Washington on Thursday and was greeted by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau on arrival.

He is expected to address the Canadian parliament on Friday.