Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a news conference with President Joe Biden in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in Washington.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a news conference with President Joe Biden in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stood as a united front Tuesday, intent on securing more aid for Ukraine’s fight against Russia’s invasion despite Republican resistance on Capitol Hill.

The two presidents made the case for why Ukraine’s campaign to defend itself is a worthy commitment for the United States even as Republican enthusiasm for continuing to arm the embattled country wanes and the war freezes into a stalemate.

“Mr. President, I’ll not walk away from Ukraine and neither will the American people,” Biden said at a joint news conference with Zelenskyy at the White House. “A clear bipartisan majority of people across the United States and in Congress support your country. They understand, as I do, that Ukraine’s success and its ability to deter aggression in the future are vital to the security for the world at large.”

Biden on Tuesday also approved a $200 million drawdown from existing funds for military assistance for Ukraine. But his ability to pull additional weaponry from Pentagon stocks is quickly winding down as a $110 billion national security supplemental spending package, including $60 billion for Ukraine, remains stalled in Congress.

The proposed funding has become a major point of contention on Capitol Hill because Republicans refuse to pass any Ukraine aid without major changes to immigration policy.

Biden took aim at Senate Republicans who blocked the aid package last week, pointing out that their obstruction was praised on Russian state television channels.

“If you’re being celebrated by Russian propagandists, it might be time to rethink what you’re doing,” he said. “History will judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom’s cause.”

Zelenskyy arrived in Washington on Monday to appeal personally to skeptical lawmakers and other decision-makers. He began his two-day visit with a speech at the National Defense University, asking military officers to imagine waiting weeks and months for critical munitions.

Delays on Capitol Hill, he warned, only benefit Russian President Vladimir Putin and his “sick clique.”

Zelenskyy made that same argument in meetings with senators and House leaders on Tuesday, hoping to break the impasse over the supplemental aid package. It did not appear to be successful and the chances of Congress appropriating the aid before the end of the year are low.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said he supported Ukraine’s fight but reiterated Republicans will condition any aid for Ukraine on immigration restrictions at the U.S.-Mexico border. He also blamed the White House for failing to articulate a clear path to victory for Ukraine.

“Their responses have been insufficient,” he said in a news conference after meeting with Zelenskyy. “What the Biden administration seems to be asking for is billions of additional dollars with no appropriate oversight, no clear strategy to win and none of the answers I think the American people are owed.”

Biden on Tuesday said the objective for Ukraine is to remain a sovereign, independent nation that “can afford to defend itself today and deter further aggression.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he is pushing Johnson to keep the House in session into next week to give lawmakers more time to reconcile their differences. The White House announced last week that previously allotted aid for Ukraine could run out by year’s end without congressional action.

“Congress needs to pass funding before [its] break for recess,” Biden said. “Before they give Putin the greatest Christmas gift they can possibly give him.”

Failure to continue to back Ukraine as it approaches a third year of war will likely mean Russia will prevail, Schumer said. Ukraine’s fall would lead to a snowball effect around the world and damage America’s credibility as a reliable ally, he said.

“If we abandon Ukraine to the dark forces of autocracy, we will all pay a price. The price won’t be tomorrow – meaning next week – but it will be in the months and years ahead,” Schumer said. “It will be an awful price, and everyone who voted against aid to Ukraine will have to live with it.”

Newly declassified U.S. intelligence released this week shows Russia is counting on a military deadlock this winter to further sap Western aid for Ukraine and give Russia the advantage, despite Moscow’s punishing losses on the battlefield. The Russian military is believed to have lost about 87% of the forces and 63% of the tanks that it had committed to Ukraine at the start of the invasion.

Zelenskyy touted Ukraine’s recent achievements, including the destruction of 20,000 Wagner Group mercenaries and the forced retreat of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. In 2024, Ukraine aims to dominate the skies, he said. Ukrainian pilots began F-16 fighter jet training in the U.S. in the fall.

“Who controls the skies, controls the war’s duration,” Zelenskyy said.

He declined to detail how Ukraine planned to meet its battlefield goals next year, only saying “we have a clear plan.” Zelenskyy also forcefully rejected calls for Ukraine to cede territory to Russia in order to bring the war to an end, describing the suggestions as “insane, to be honest.”

“We are talking about human beings, they are being tortured, they are being raped and they are being killed and those voices which offer to give up our territories, they offer as well to give up our people,” he said. “That’s not a matter of territory, that’s a matter of lives of families, of children.”

Zelenskyy said he was leaving Washington with a feeling of support from the Biden administration and lawmakers and described his meetings as “more than positive.”

But, Zelenskyy cautioned, “we know that we have to separate words from a particular result.” Therefore, Ukrainians will stay focused on the results, he said.

“It’s very important that by the end of this year we can send a very strong signal of our unity to the aggressor and the unity of Ukraine, America, Europe, the entire free world,” he said.

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Svetlana Shkolnikova covers Congress for Stars and Stripes. She previously worked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee as an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and spent four years as a general assignment reporter for The Record newspaper in New Jersey and the USA Today Network. A native of Belarus, she has also reported from Moscow, Russia.

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