NewsZelensky on Capitol Hill: “Economic aid to Ukraine is...

Zelensky on Capitol Hill: “Economic aid to Ukraine is not charity; It is an investment in global security”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky may boast a bewildering collection of appearances in parliaments around the world since the Russian invasion began on February 24, but until now he has never spoken before any of them in person.

The United States Capitol received him this Wednesday night to listen to him – this time, not through a screen – in a special joint session that was announced as “historic”. And Zelensky picked up that gauntlet, peppering his words with references to heroic episodes of the past: from the Battle of Saratoga, the turning point of the American War of Independence, to the rhetoric of President Franklin Roosevelt, leader of the country for much of World War II. World War, going through the “Allied resistance against the Nazis at Christmas 1944” in the Ardennes. All of this led Zelensky to a conclusion: the battle that his army is waging right now in the heart of Europe is crucial for the future of democracy, and that is why his troops need, more than ever, “all possible help”. both economic and military. “We are in a position to change the course of the war,” he declared. “Your money is not charity, it is an investment in global security that we manage in the most responsible way.” “We are in a position to change the course of the war,” he said. “Your money is not charity, it is an investment in global security that we manage in the most responsible way.” “We are in a position to change the course of the war,” he said. “Your money is not charity, it is an investment in global security that we manage in the most responsible way.”

Dressed in his usual battle green uniform, Zelensky was greeted by the congressmen with four minutes of cheers and applause that delayed the start of his impassioned speech, a speech that he opened with the words “dear Americans” to make it clear that he was addressing them as well. , who support with their taxes, whether they like it or not, that crusade. Against all odds, Ukraine did not fall. She is alive and well, ”proclaimed the leader at the end of an intense day in Washington, in which he met with President Joe Biden at the White House.

It was his first trip abroad since the start of the war, almost 10 months ago; an itinerary not exempt from risks, which he wanted to sell as a journey in defense of democracy. “We defeated Russia. We are not afraid. No one should have it”, affirmed the Ukrainian president in the Capitol. “This victory will serve to inspire the global community. It is also a triumph for the Americans. Europe is more united and freer than ever. Russian tyranny has lost its grip on us. And Russian citizens will be free too, but only when they defeat the Kremlin in their minds.”

His appearance came while Congress is considering the approval, before the Democrats cede control of the House of Representatives, of an omnibus bill that contemplates many things, including a line of aid to Ukraine of 45,000 million dollars (42,340 million euros). So his words inevitably sounded like pressure to guarantee the supply of tanks, missiles and other military equipment. Also, courting Republican lawmakers, who say they are more concerned with domestic issues like border management or the fentanyl epidemic and are not about to continue issuing a blank check to kyiv. “We have artillery, yes, thank you. It’s enough? No, honestly,” Zelensky said.

The final blow of effect of the president, who was previously an actor, came when he had been speaking for about 20 minutes and he took out a flag of his country. It was full of signatures that several Ukrainian soldiers had stamped the day before on the Bakhmut front, a city in the Donetsk region of the Donbas, where right now the hardest fighting against the Russian army is taking place. The enemy “uses everything” in this offensive, Zelensky said. Despite this, he added, amid continuous interruptions by applause, Ukraine “holds its lines and will never surrender.” “Last year, 70,000 people lived there… Now only a few civilians remain. Every inch of that land is drenched in blood… Donbas changed hands several times in fierce fighting. But his Ukrainian soul lives on.”

The Ukrainian president handed over the banner to the US Vice President, Kamala Harris, and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who reciprocated with an American flag, which had flown during the day at the Capitol. Both followed the speech from the upper rostrum, behind Zelenski’s back, a figure that almost seemed like a mirage: surely, in the measure before the start of the conflict, no one would have bet that 10 months later, at 44 years of age, he would continue with lifetime.

Pelosi had received it an hour and a half earlier in the halls of Congress at the end of a busy day at the White House. Zelenski, who arrived by train at the border with Poland to board a plane that landed in Washington at noon, met for two hours with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office, where he heard from him that the United States would support him “as long as necessary”, also with the dispatch of a battery of long-range Patriot missiles, an old wish of kyiv finally granted. Later, both attended the press in a room in the East wing.

Pelosi, 82, addressed the joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives in what will surely be her last major appearance before leaving next week a position she has held twice (from 2007 to 2011, and since 2019). It is the end of a 35-year career on Capitol Hill and most likely he could never have dreamed of such a lofty farewell. The Democratic Party lost control of the House of Representatives in the last legislative elections and its position is expected to be filled, with the new year, by California Republican Kevin McCarthy.

The US Congress follows the speech of the Ukrainian president, Vladimir Zelensky. JONATHAN ERNST (REUTERS)

The veteran politician, whom Zelensky thanked for his visit to kyiv “at the height of the war”, also made use of history when he recalled that another “president at war”, a certain Winston Churchill, addressed the US congressmen at the end of 1941. She knows this well, because her father was a member of the Chamber when Churchill spoke then in the same dramatic setting. “Eighty-one years later, this week, it is particularly moving for me to be present as another heroic leader addresses Congress in a time of war, and with democracy itself at stake,” he wrote in a morning letter to his colleagues. to encourage them to attend Zelensky’s speech.

Despite Pelosi’s efforts, the floor did not fill up. It is Christmas week in Washington and in a Congress that is living its last days before its renewal, not all the representatives counted on still being in the city. The visit of the Ukrainian leader, which was planned in secret and was only announced to the press on Tuesday night, was also a surprise for them. As if that were not enough, a storm of epic proportions is coming to welcome the winter that promises to make commuting through vast areas of the center and north of the country a living hell.

Zelensky closed his speech by wishing those present a “happy and victorious new year” before catching the plane back to the front. The leader of the Democratic majority, Chuck Schumer, one of the senators who did attend the meeting, later explained to the Capitol Hill journalists what he, who already addressed legislators last March in a video message in which he he invoked 9/11 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, had let him know during a previous meeting: that if Congress does not approve the pending aid, that “would mean losing the war.”

His opponent, Mitch McConnell, considered in statements to reporters that “the most important thing in the world right now is to defeat Russia”, although not everyone in his party thinks the same way. There are more and more voices on the Republican side, especially those who defend the nationalist vision of America First (United States first), who are beginning to show signs of fatigue from an unprecedented investment: not counting those that are under study. In these almost 10 months they have approved aid worth 65,000 million dollars. McCarthy summed up those suspicions: “My position has never changed. I support Ukraine, but not being given a blank check. We want to make sure there is accountability for every penny that is spent.”

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