In what will be his first foreign trip since Russia invaded his country, Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelensky is expected in Washington, D.C. late Wednesday to address a joint session of Congress.
Zelensky’s surprise visit will be his first in the U.S. since September 2021, when the focus was on how former President Donald Trump had leaned on him to investigate current President Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine. It is also his first foreign visit anywhere since Russia invaded his country some 300 days ago.
Early on in the invasion, Biden offered to evacuate Zelensky, a former comedian, who famously declined—quipping that he needed “ammo,” not “a ride” out of his country. Since then he has made regular video addresses from the streets of the capital city Kyiv in defiance against Russia’s attacks.
The timing of his visit may well coincide with the Biden administration making good on its promise to beef up Ukrainian capabilities with a donation of patriot missile defense system assets, which could change the face of the war and will be the closest thing Ukraine has had to airspace protection.
Zelensky has regularly asked for help in closing the country’s airspace, and the Patriot system will give Ukraine an advantage in fighting off the onslaught of Russian missiles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last week implied that the donation of such a sophisticated defense system could lead to “unpredictable responses,” though it is unclear exactly what that looks like. Putin visited Belarus this week, sending a worrying signal that he may engage his biggest ally in the attack on Ukraine.
Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) seemingly confirmed Zelensky’s arrival with a letter to lawmakers Tuesday, asking them to “be present for a very special focus on Democracy Wednesday night,” according to several news outlets, underscoring that their physical presence was required.
Zelensky’s visit, of which the details are understandably under wraps due to security concerns, comes a day after Congress proposed a $45 billion aid package that would both beef up its military efforts and look towards rebuilding the country’s devastated infrastructure.
Zelensky’s personal plea to the joint session is likely also meant to soften up any lawmakers still hesitant to vote in its favor.