Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky paid a defiant wartime visit to Washington on Wednesday to thank U.S. leaders and “ordinary Americans” for their support in fighting off Russia’s invasion and pledged there would be “no compromises” in trying to bring an end to the war. President Joe Biden and Congress responded with billions in new assistance and a pledge to help Ukraine pursue a “just peace.”
Mr. Biden welcomed Mr. Zelensky to the Oval Office, saying the U.S. and Ukraine would continue to project a “united defense” as Russia wages a “brutal assault on Ukraine’s right to exist as a nation.” Mr. Zelensky, on his first known trip outside his country since Russia invaded in February, said he wanted to visit earlier and his visit now showed the “situation is under control, because of your support.”
Pressed on how Ukraine would try to bring an end to the conflict, Mr. Zelensky rejected Biden’s framing of a “just peace,” saying, “For me as a president, ‘just peace’ is no compromises.” He said the war would end once Ukraine’s sovereignty, freedom and territorial integrity were restored, as well as the “payback for all the damages inflicted by Russian aggression.”
“There can’t be any ‘just peace’ in the war that was imposed on us,” he added.
The highly sensitive trip was taking place after 10 months of a brutal war that has seen tens of thousands of casualties on both sides and devastation for Ukrainian civilians. Mr. Zelensky’s visit was meant to reinvigorate support for his country in the U.S. and around the world, amid concerns that allies are growing weary of the costly war and its disruption to global food and energy supplies.
Just before his arrival, the U.S. announced its largest single delivery of arms to Ukraine, including Patriot surface-to-air missiles, and Congress planned to vote on a spending package that includes about $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine.
Russia, Mr. Biden said, is “trying to use winter as a weapon, but Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world.” Later, in a joint news conference, he said Russian President Vladimir Putin has “no intention of stopping this cruel war.”
The two leaders appeared to share a warm rapport, laughing at each others’ comments and patting each other on the back throughout the visit, though Mr. Zelensky made clear he will continue to press Mr. Biden and other Western leaders for ever more support.
He said that after the Patriot system was up and running, “we will send another signal to President Biden that we would like to get more Patriots.”
“We are in the war,” Mr. Zelensky added with a smile, as Mr. Biden chuckled at the direct request. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
Mr. Biden said it is “important for the American people, and for the world, to hear directly from you, Mr. President, about Ukraine’s fight, and the need to continue to stand together through 2023.”
After the White House meeting, the Ukrainian president was scheduled to give an address to Congress, which Vice President Kamala Harris was attending.
Mr. Zelensky, wearing brown military fatigues rather than a suit, was driven to the White House where Mr. Biden, joined by his wife Jill, put his arm around his shoulder before escorting him past doors where guards held the U.S. and Ukrainian flags.
Earlier, a U.S. official confirmed that a U.S. Air Force jet carrying the Ukrainian leader landed at Joint Base Andrews, just outside the capital.
Mr. Zelensky said on his Twitter account before his arrival that the visit, his first known trip outside Ukraine since the war began in February, was “to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities” of Ukraine and to discuss cooperation with the United States.
Mr. Zelensky headed abroad after making a daring and dangerous trip on Tuesday to what he called the hottest spot on the 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) front line of the war, the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk province. He praised Ukrainian troops for their “courage, resilience and strength” as artillery boomed in the background.
Poland’s private broadcaster, TVN24, said Zelensky crossed into Poland early Wednesday on his way to Washington. The station showed footage of what appeared to be Mr. Zelensky arriving at a train station and being escorted to a motorcade. TVN24 said the video, partially blurred for security reasons, was shot in Przemysl, a Polish border town that has been the arrival point for many refugees fleeing the war. U.S. officials, citing security concerns, were mum about Mr. Zelensky's travel plans.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that the visit “will underscore the United States’ steadfast commitment to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes, including through the provision of economic, humanitarian, and military assistance.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in her invitation to Mr. Zelensky to speak to lawmakers, said “the fight for Ukraine is the fight for democracy itself” and that they were looking forward to "hearing your inspiring message of unity, resilience and determination.”
U.S. and Ukrainian officials have made clear they do not envision an imminent resolution to the war and are preparing for fighting to continue for some time. The latest infusion of U.S. money would be the biggest yet — and exceed Mr. Biden’s $37 billion request.