President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky plan to meet at the White House on Wednesday, according to two sources familiar with the ongoing planning, in a surprise visit that may change based on security concerns.
The visit, which has not been completed and has been heavily suspended due to security concerns, will coincide with the administration’s intention to send the country a new defense assistance package that includes Patriot missile systems. This will be Zelensky’s first trip outside Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion in February this year. His possible visit to Washington may also include an address to Congress.
The White House declined to comment on the potential visit, the Biden announcement, or the new security assistance announcements. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not confirm reports that Zelensky would be coming to the Capitol on Wednesday, saying, “I don’t know that’s going to happen.”
“We don’t know yet. We just don’t know,” she said.
When asked by CNN if he was invited, she said, “No. Not until we know if he can come.”
The visit of the Ukrainian president to Washington will be an important moment 10 months after the start of the Russian war in Ukraine. Zelensky emerged as the international embodiment of Ukrainian resistance to the invasion and spent much of the year pleading for support from the countries.
He has made those pleas virtually, legislating at international summits and world legislatures to make his case for more weapons and financing. He remained inside his country for the duration of the war, reflecting his desire to rally his embattled country and the precarious security situation he might face outside of Ukraine.
At the start of the war, Zelensky garrisoned himself in the capital, Kyiv, often addressing the nation from undisclosed locations. Recently, he has traveled to some of the war fronts, including on Tuesday when he visited the frontline city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region. Ukrainian and Russian forces have been fighting a pitched battle there for months.
Zelensky met with soldiers and distributed awards, according to his office. A video clip broadcast on state television showed the president, dressed in uniform and a bullet-proof vest, presenting awards to soldiers. Bakhmut has seen some of the fiercest fighting across the country since Russian forces launched their earnest siege of the city in May, reducing it to rubble.
One member said Pelosi is making calls to members urging them to come to the Capitol on Wednesday due to concerns that the chamber will be empty before the recess holiday. Pelosi asked members to come Wednesday night for a “very special focus on democracy.”
The members’ expectation, according to several sources, is for Zelensky to address Congress on Wednesday. However, the sources warned that this may not be final yet due to security concerns.
Ukraine has called on the United States to field an advanced long-range air defense system highly effective at intercepting ballistic and cruise missiles as it comes under a barrage of Russian missiles and drone attacks that have destroyed key infrastructure across the country.
The Patriot missile battery will be the most effective long-range defense weapons system sent to the country and officials say it will help secure airspace for NATO countries in Eastern Europe. CNN first reported it last week The United States plans to send Patriot systems to Ukraine.
not clear How many missile launchers? But a typical Patriot battery includes a radar array that detects and tracks targets, computers, power generation equipment, an engagement control station, and up to eight launchers, each carrying four ready-to-fire missiles.
Once the plans are finalized, officials said, the Patriots are expected to ship quickly in the coming days and Ukrainians will be trained to use them at a US Army base in Grafenauer, Germany.
Ukraine has been ordering the system for months, but the logistical challenges to getting it up and running are enormous. Despite these hurdles, “the reality of what’s going on on the ground” prompted the administration to make the decision, the senior administration official told CNN, referring to the continuing intense Russian missile barrage.
Unlike smaller air defense systems, Patriot missile batteries need much larger crews, requiring dozens of personnel to operate properly. Training for Patriot missile batteries would normally take several months, an operation the United States will now carry out under the pressure of near-daily air strikes from Russia.
The system is widely considered one of the most capable long-range weapons for defending airspace against ballistic and cruise missiles as well as some aircraft. Because of its long-range and high-altitude capability, Russian missiles and aircraft are likely to fall far from their intended targets inside Ukraine.
This story has been updated with additional reports.
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