President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden greeted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House Wednesday for his first visit outside his country since the Russian invasion – and facing a threat from Vladimir Putin that the trip will not ‘bode well’ for the embattled nation.
Zelensky wore olive military fatigues, as Biden was dressed in a suit and the first lady in a light blue ensemble. The Bidens posed for pictures, with Zelensky standing in the middle and Biden putting his arm around the Ukrainian leader. The trio then walked inside from the South Lawn as reporters shouted questions.
Zelensky touched down at Joint Base Andrews shortly after 12 p.m. ET for a short stay in the U.S. before returning to his homeland. He arrived on an Air Force plane with the distinct blue-and-white markings that designate it an official American aircraft.
‘President Zelensky has landed in the U.S.,’ a White House official announced.
He was greeted by Chief of Protocol Rufus Gifford. The ambassador of Ukraine to the U.S. Oksana Markarova also met Zelensky as he stepped off the plane.
‘I am in Washington today to thank the American people, the President and the Congress for their much-needed support,’ Zelensky shared on Instagram, along with his arrival pictures. ‘And also to continue cooperation to bring our victory closer.’
Zelensky said he would talk about defense capabilies with President Joe Biden.
‘Next year, we must return the Ukrainian flag and freedom to our entire land, to all our people,’ he added.
Biden and his administration have pulled out all the stops – giving the Ukrainain leader, who has reached hero status around the world for his defense of his country, the trappings of a state visit: an Oval Office meeting, a presidential press conference and a Joint Address to Congress.
Red carpets were rolled out at both the White House and at Joint Base Andrews.
Ukrainian and American flags lined the streets of Pennsylvania Avenue on the cold but sunny day in Washington D.C.
Overshadowing the historic visit, however, is the looming specter of Russia, where officials announced they would put more boots on the ground in Ukraine and warned Biden’s decision to give Ukraine the power Patriot missile defense system does ‘not bode well’ for the country.
President Joe Biden (right) puts his arm around Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) as he arrives at the White House Wednesday
First lady Jill Biden, Ukaine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Joe Biden pose for a photo on the South Lawn Wednesday
Zelensky (left) gets out of his SUV at the White House and is greeted by President Joe Biden (center) and first lady Jill Biden (right)
President Joe Biden (right) puts his arm over President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky (center) during an arrival ceremony alongside first lady Jill Biden (left)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrives in the United States Wednesday. The U.S. rolled out the red carpet for Zelensky, as he flew on a blue-and-white Air Force plane, with similar markings to Air Force One
Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova (left) shook the hand of Zelensky (right) as he arrived at Joint Base Andrews on Wednesday
Zelensky (right) was welcomed to the U.S. by Chief of Protocol Rufus Gifford (left)
President Joe Biden wished Volodymyr Zelensky safe travels Wednesday as the Ukrainian president headed to the United States to meet with him at the White House and address Congress
American and Ukrainian flags wave in front of the U.S. Capitol building
White House staff rolls out the red carpet for the arrival of Zelensky on Wednesday
President Zelensky’s nametag is placed on the red carpet, which will direct the Ukrainian president where to stand at Wednesday’s White House arrival ceremony
As Zelensky was flying to the United States, Putin was speaking to his top military commanders, repeating his belief that Russian goals in Ukraine will be achieved and said the nation’s soldiers are fighting ‘like the heroes’ of the War of 1812, World War I and World War II.
Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu proposed increasing the size of Russian forces in the Ukraine to 1.5 million – up from the original target of 1.15 million service members.
Putin gave his approval, saying: ‘I agree with your proposals.’
U.S officials said they were aware Zelensky’s absence from his country could lead to increased Russian attacks. Zelensky rallied his troops on Tuesday ahead of his trip.
‘I wish that your sun, that is your children, to shine for you for them to motivate you to survive for sure and defend your families, our state, and the future of your children,’ he said.
He visited the eastern frontline city of Bakhmut, which is the frontlines of the war against Russia, where he wished soldiers good health and reminded them they were fighting for their children.
‘You are absolutely historic people,’ he told them. ‘History only remembers the victors, only the strong and the brave.’
Zelensky, while in the States, is expected to speak about the bravery of his people and thank the U.S. for its support. But he will also lobby for more military equipment and greater financial support at a time some Republicans are questioning whether such support should continue.
Ukrainian forces have held off Russia’s invading military, pushing them back in the northeast and the south. But the war is expected to continue for some time with both sides digging in for a long, cold winter.
During Zelensky’s historic American visit, which will only last a few hours, Biden will announce he is sending a Patriot missile system to the Ukraine – a defense system that Zelensky has long sought for his nation.
The advanced weaponry is meant to show the U.S. committment to the Ukraine as officials acknowledge the war is unlikely to end anytime soon.
Zelensky’s trip comes on the 300th day of the Russian invasion.
The administration also is set to announced Wednesday about $1 billion in weapons from Pentagon stocks and $800 million in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
Russia responded with aggression.
Kremlin top spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the delivery of Patriot missiles will lead ‘to an aggravation of the conflict’ and does ‘not bode well for Ukraine.’
While on the ground in Washington, Zelensky will have an Oval Office meeting with Biden, hold a press conference with the American president and then address a Joint Session of Congress.
Zelensky is making the visit at Biden’s personal invitation, a senior administration official said on Tuesday night.
‘He makes his own determinations about that travel based on what he believes is best going to deliver for his people,’ the official said of the Ukrainian president.
The visit will ‘underscore the United States is enduring commitment to Ukraine,’ the official noted.
Biden personally invited Zelensky to visit when they spoke on the phone on December 11. The two men speak often and Biden hosted Zelensky at the White House in September 2021 – about five months before Russia invaded.
Zelensky said in his tweet that the visit was ‘to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities’ of Ukraine and discuss cooperation between his country and the U.S with Biden.
Polish broadcaster TVN24 said Zelensky crossed into Poland early Wednesday to start his journey.
The station showed footage of what appeared to be Zelensky arriving at a train station and being escorted to a motorcade, the Associated Press reported.
TVN24 said the video, which was partially blurred for security reasons, was shot Wednesday morning in Przemysl, a Polish border town that has been the arrival point for many refugees fleeing the war.
The White House worked with the Ukraine on security arrangements for the trip and acknowledged they knew the risk of Russian action while Zelensky was out of the country.
The official White House invite went out last Wednesday and Zelensky formally accepted the invitation last Friday. The White House then informed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose office invited Zelensky to address a joint session of Congress.
Biden has not visited the Ukraine during the Russian attack unlike other G7 leaders. The security precautions do not allow the American president to make the journey. Biden did visit the border region in Poland, where he met with Ukrainian refugees.
The senior administration official acknowledged the coming winter will be hard for the Ukraine but said the nation had American support.
‘We know that the days ahead, the conflict will continue. The winter will be hard, and we will continue, day in day out to provide critical support to the Ukrainian people,’ the official said.
Zelensky’s visit comes as lawmakers are preparing to pass a federal budget for the next year that includes $44.9 billion for the Ukraine – the biggest amount to date and well above President Joe Biden’s $37 billion request.
The move ensures that funding will flow to the embattled nation for months to come amid questions about whether Republicans, who take control of the House on January 3rd, would continue financial assistance.
Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed retaliation in response to the U.S. giving the Ukraine the Patriot missile defense system – he addressed senior military commanders as Zelensky headed to the United States
The Patriot Missile system is widely considered one of the best and most capable of defending airspace against incoming attacks – Zelensky has long sought it for his country
Zelensky last visited the United States in September 2021 – meeting with President Biden in the Oval Office about five months before Russia invaded
Some Republican lawmakers are wary of continuing to back Ukraine – both through military aid as well as sanctions imposed on Russia.
But the White House denied the visit is about arm-ringing the GOP – even though Congress is voting on the funding measure later this week.
‘This isn’t about sending a message to a particular political party. This is about sending a message to Putin and sending a message to the world that America will be there for Ukraine for as long as it takes,’ the senior administration official said.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Pelosi said she didn’t necessarily believe the incoming Republican majority would be less supportive.
‘I don’t know if that’s the case,’ she said. ‘I feel very strong about the bipartisan support – that may not mean unanimous – but it does mean strong.’
Zelensky has long sought the Patriot missile defense system, which would help his military fend off Russian attacks that have destroyed much of its infrastructure.
The Patriot Missile system is widely considered one of the best and most capable of defending airspace against incoming attacks. Because of its long range, it can potentially shoot down Russian missiles far from their intended targets inside Ukraine.
It is a complicated system, however, that requires dozens of people to operate and usually takes months to train personnel on how to use. U.S. officials will train Ukrainian service members in Germany, according to reports.
It’s unclear when the missile system will be used in Ukraine given the long training period and the complex logisitical arrangements for delivering the sensitive equipment.
Zelensky on Tuesday met military officials and handed out awards to Ukrainian servicemen, who have been holding back a fierce and months-long Russian campaign for the city
In a video released by his office from the Bakhmut visit, Zelensky was handed a Ukrainian flag and alluded to delivering it to U.S. leaders
The Ukrainian president on Tuesday visited the eastern frontline city of Bakhmut, now the epicentre of fighting in Russia’s nearly 10-month invasion of Ukraine.
Zelensky met military officials and handed out awards to Ukrainian servicemen, who have been holding back a fierce and months-long Russian campaign for the city.
In a video released by his office from the Bakhmut visit, Zelensky was handed a Ukrainian flag and alluded to delivering it to U.S. leaders.
‘The guys handed over our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures for us to pass on,’ he said in the video. ‘We are not in an easy situation. The enemy is increasing its army, and our people are braver and need more powerful weapons. We will pass it on from the boys to the Congress, to the President of the United States. We are grateful for their support, but it is not enough. It is a hint – it is not enough.’