Zelenskyy presents Pelosi and Harris with a flag
Zelenskyy presents Pelosi and Harris with a flag

The cap­i­tal city of the Unit­ed States rolled out the wel­come mat today for Ukrain­ian Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Zelen­skyy, who came to Amer­i­ca to meet with Pres­i­dent Joe Biden and deliv­er an incred­i­ble, inspir­ing speech to a joint ses­sion of Con­gress about Ukraine’s fight for free­dom in the face of Vladimir Putin’s mur­der­ous war of aggres­sion against a neigh­bor it had once pledged nev­er to invade.

Mak­ing his first trip abroad since the esca­la­tion of the war Putin began many years ago in an attempt to gob­ble up Ukrain­ian ter­ri­to­ry and weak­en the sec­ond largest coun­try in Europe, Zelen­skyy explained in a series of appear­ances that Ukraine is fight­ing against autoc­ra­cy and oppres­sion on behalf of the entire free world and needs all of the help that it can get from allies like the Unit­ed States.

The Biden admin­is­tra­tion made sure that Zelen­skyy got the most out of his vis­it. Zelen­skyy’s itin­er­ary includ­ed an Oval Office sit-down, a press con­fer­ence in the East Room, and a prime­time speech to a joint ses­sion of Congress.

The city gov­ern­ment, mean­while, made sure that Ukrain­ian and Amer­i­can flags adorned the cap­i­tal’s broad boule­vards. May­or Muriel Bows­er offered a greet­ing on behalf of the peo­ple who live and work in the nation’s capital.

For Pres­i­dent Biden, it was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to stand shoul­der to shoul­der and talk face to face. The pres­i­dent has said on more than one occa­sion that he val­ues in-per­son diplo­ma­cy and per­son­al rela­tion­ships. Zelen­skyy knows that, and has been seek­ing the very Oval Office meet­ing he got today for an extreme­ly long time.

“This vis­it to Wash­ing­ton, your first trip out­side Ukraine since Feb­ru­ary, comes as Pres­i­dent Putin is esca­lat­ing his attacks — his bru­tal attacks — tar­get­ing crit­i­cal infra­struc­ture to make life as hard as pos­si­ble for not only inno­cent Ukraini­ans but chil­dren and young chil­dren, and every­thing from orphan­ages to schools.  It’s just out­ra­geous what he’s doing,” Biden not­ed in com­ments at the press conference.

“We had a very good nego­ti­a­tion and talks about our strate­gic steps — which we dis­cussed with Pres­i­dent Biden — and what we expect next year and for what we are prepar­ing.  This is very impor­tant for all Ukraini­ans, and I am hope­ful,” said Zelen­skyy, who added that despite the forth­com­ing change in U.S. House con­trol, he feels good about the future of bipar­ti­san, bicam­er­al sup­port for Ukraine.

In a poignant moment dur­ing the Oval Office meet­ing (which had what’s known in WHCA lin­go as a pool spray), Zelen­skyy pre­sent­ed Biden with a Ukrain­ian Cross of Mil­i­tary Mer­it that he explained was from the cap­tain of a HIMARS battery.

“One guy is a real hero, he is a cap­tain, who asked me to give you his award. He is the cap­tain of the HIMARS bat­tery. He is very brave. And he said, ‘pass this on to a very brave Pres­i­dent.’ I give you the Cross of Mil­i­tary Mer­it. It’s from him. And the let­ter – I did­n’t read it. It’s in Ukrain­ian, but there’s a trans­la­tion here,” Zelen­skyy said, to a very hon­ored and delight­ed Pres­i­dent Biden.

Lat­er in the day, towards the end of his joint address to Con­gress, Zelen­skyy unfurled a flag signed by Ukrain­ian sol­diers and gave it to Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi and Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Har­ris, who held it up to thun­der­ous applause from Con­gress. Pelosi then pre­sent­ed Zelen­skyy with a tri­an­gu­lar box con­tain­ing a U.S. flag that had flown over the Capi­tol that day. The rich­ly sym­bol­ic moment under­scored the impor­tance of the U.S.-Ukraine rela­tion­ship to both countries.

Zelen­skyy’s speech was a tri­umph. It was a well-writ­ten, well-deliv­ered, well-received address that both con­veyed the strug­gles of the Ukrain­ian peo­ple in their fight for free­dom and a peace­ful, pros­per­ous future as well as the coun­try’s grat­i­tude for aid pack­ages and weapons pro­vid­ed by the Unit­ed States.

As impor­tant as Amer­i­can help so far has been, Ukraine needs more, Zelen­skyy said. The Krem­lin is a dif­fi­cult foe: it has access to more mon­ey, equip­ment, and man­pow­er than Ukraine does. But Zelen­skyy empha­sized that Ukraine has fought well this year and can be vic­to­ri­ous with the con­tin­ued help of the free world.

And he’s cer­tain­ly right about that. Now would be a ter­ri­ble time for the U.S. to hold back in invest­ing in Ukraine’s suc­cess. And it is an invest­ment — not char­i­ty, as Zelen­skyy mem­o­rably said in one of the address’ most stir­ring lines.

Ukraini­ans aren’t just fight­ing for them­selves, they’re fight­ing on behalf of all democ­ra­cies against the greed and ambi­tion of dic­ta­tors like Vladimir Putin.

A Krem­lin vic­to­ry would be dis­as­trous in every respect, and would increase the like­li­hood of a wider war that could involve NATO. All who want a peace­ful world should be invest­ed in the suc­cess of Ukraine’s defense and lib­er­a­tion, and should unre­served­ly stand with Pres­i­dent Zelen­skyy and the Ukrain­ian people.

In anoth­er of the address’ most impor­tant lines, Zelen­skyy said: “Ukraine nev­er asked Amer­i­can sol­diers to fight on our land instead of us. I assure you that Ukrain­ian sol­diers can per­fect­ly oper­ate Amer­i­can tanks and planes themselves.”

To date, the U.S. has pro­vid­ed drones, mis­siles, artillery, ammu­ni­tion, and sev­er­al dif­fer­ent kinds of vehi­cles, but not tanks and planes, which Ukraine would real­ly like to have for its defense. (Ukraine is at least final­ly get­ting its own Patri­ot mis­sile sys­tem, but could use more of those too.) As the Pres­i­dent of a nation fight­ing for its sur­vival, Zelen­skyy appro­pri­ate­ly made the most of an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make the case for sig­nif­i­cant­ly increased mil­i­tary assis­tance from Congress.

Though he deliv­ered many of the lines of his speech quick­ly, these par­tic­u­lar lines were deliv­ered much more slow­ly, and they land­ed about as well as they could have, with many mem­bers of Con­gress ris­ing to their feet in support.

“The ship­ment of the Patri­ot is a deci­sion that sur­prised even Ukrain­ian offi­cials,” Politi­co report­ed today, detail­ing Ukraine’s request for more advanced weapons and the Biden admin­is­tra­tion’s response. “The Patri­ot sys­tem is a long-sought prize for Kyiv and the ver­sion head­ed to Ukraine is built to inter­cept bal­lis­tic mis­siles. That would be a major addi­tion to Kyiv’s defens­es against con­tin­ued Russ­ian attacks on the capital’s crit­i­cal infrastructure.”

Ukraine would like to have longer-range mis­siles for the next stage of the war, but U.S. offi­cials won’t agree to send them, at least not yet.

Their think­ing, as Politi­co described it, is that “send­ing long-range mis­siles to Kyiv could risk pro­vok­ing Putin using poten­tial­ly even more lethal weapons inside Ukraine.” The Ukraini­ans have point­ed out that Putin’s forces are already bom­bard­ing Ukraine’s ener­gy infra­struc­ture and attack­ing civil­ians. Zelen­skyy’s trip to D.C. and suc­cess­ful acqui­si­tion of a Patri­ot are already guar­an­teed to enrage Putin. So why not arm the Ukraini­ans with longer range missiles?

While that debate con­tin­ues, Pres­i­dent Zelen­skyy will be fly­ing home, on a VIP trans­port pro­vid­ed by the Unit­ed States, hav­ing made the most of an oppor­tu­ni­ty to urge sup­port for Ukraine’s fight to U.S. lead­er­ship and the Amer­i­can people.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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