WASHINGTON: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky will meet US President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday in what is being touted as the war-time leader's first trip abroad after his country was invaded last February by Russia.
The two leaders will also do a news briefing after their meeting, a senior Biden administration official told reporters previewing the landmark visit. Zelensky may also address a joint session of US Congress later in the day, before leaving for home, after just a few hours on the ground.
The high-profile visit, which is likely to make headlines around the world, and Zelensky's itinerary were kept under wraps till just the day before his arrival. The two leaders first discussed a potential visit on December 11, the official said, and the details were worked out over the next few days.
This will be Zelensky's first visit outside Ukraine after the Russian invasion, and his second to the US. His previous visit to the US was in September 2021, which came after months of testy relationship with then President Donald Trump, who had held out the promise of a White House visit in exchange "for a favor", essentially help in implicating Biden's son, who had had business dealings with a Ukrainian company during his father's Vice Presidency.
Zelensky did not oblige and Trump denied him a White House visit, though they did meet on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York. Trump was impeached for the "favour" request made during a controversial phone call between the two leaders.
The Biden administration official did not attach much importance to the timing of the meeting, saying there is mathematical formula" behind it and said the two leaders will "have an in-depth strategic discussion on the way ahead on the battlefield; on the capabilities and training that the US and our allies will continue to provide to Ukraine; on the sanctions and export controls that we have imposed and will continue to tighten and reinforce that have placed significant costs on Russia's economy and Russia's defense industrial base; and on the economic and energy sector assistance as well as the humanitarian assistance we're providing to make life better for the people of Ukraine".
Earlier Tuesday, US lawmakers announced a bipartisan deal to provide close to $50 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine in its battle against Russia. With this, the total US aid to Ukraine in this effort goes up to $100 billion. There is an urgency to the funding as Republicans, who take charge of the House of Representatives in January, are likely to be less generous. Many Republicans have been opposing increasing aid to Ukraine and they will now have the opportunity to cut it.
Zelensky has not traveled abroad since February but has reached out through video appearances around the world, including the US Congress, parliaments of many western countries and the UN, both the General Assembly and the Security Council. He has been an extremely effective advocate for his country's war efforts, rallying and pushing countries to do more.