Ukrainian President Zelensky Makes Case Before Congress

December 22, 2022

Saying, “Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made the case for continuing to support his country’s war against Russian aggression in a historic speech before a joint session of Congress Wednesday evening.

Most of the lawmakers in attendance were enthused by Zelensky’s appearance, giving him 18 standing ovations throughout his speech. Afterward, he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) exchanged flags. Zelensky presented Congress with a battle flag signed by the defenders of Bakhmut, a frontline city in the east of Ukraine, and was given the American flag that had flown over the Capitol earlier in the day. 

But a small group of House Republicans critical of the ongoing funding to Ukraine, including Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Matt Gaetz of Florida, did not clap for Zelensky when he walked onto the House floor and rarely stood throughout his speech. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), the top critics of funding the war, did not attend.

After the speech, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)—who hopes to become Speaker when Republicans take Majority control in the House January 3—said, “My position has never changed. I support Ukraine but I never supported a blank check. We want to make sure there’s accountability for everybody, the money that is spent.” His comments reflected a growing consensus among House Republicans who have demanded more oversight of how allotted funds are used.

However, earlier in the day Secretary of State Antony Blinken had already announced an additional $1.85 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, including the first transfer of the Patriot missile system. The Patriot missiles will help shore up Ukraine’s ability to counter the missiles and drones that Russia uses to target Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, knocking out power across the country as the winter temperatures continue to drop.

“If your Patriots stop the Russian terror against our cities, it will let Ukrainian patriots work to the full to defend our freedom,” Zelensky said in his speech to Congress. “When Russia cannot reach our cities by its artillery, it tries to destroy them with missile attacks.”

Further, the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill that Congress must pass by day’s end Friday to keep the government running includes $27.9 billion in emergency Department of Defense spending for Ukraine.

Zelensky visited Washington in his first trip outside his home nation since Russia had invaded Ukraine 300 days before. His first stop was the White House, where in a show of unity President Biden criticized Russia for its “brutal assault on the Ukrainians’ right to exist as a nation, and the attack on innocent Ukrainian people for no reason other than to intimidate.”

The Ukrainian President arrived in the U.S. on the same day that the Kremlin announced the Russian military would be increasing its personnel from 1 million to 1.5 million members, including  695,000 volunteer contract soldiers.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to meet with President Alexander Lukashenko, magnifying long-held fears that the Russian ally’s forces could join a new offensive.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the Pentagon estimates that at least 100,000 Russian and 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or wounded, and some 40,000 civilians have died, as well.

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