Defense & National Security — President Zelensky goes to Washington

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to meet with President Biden and to address Congress as the U.S. has pledged a major new weapons package to the embattled country.  

We’ll share what was said during the meeting and Biden’s pledge to Ukraine. Plus: we’ll examine what’s in the new lethal aid package, and the Senate confirms the newest ambassador to Russia. 

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Sign up here or in the box below.

Biden: US to stand with Ukraine ‘as long as it takes’ 

President Biden on Wednesday pledged to stand with Ukraine for “as long as it takes” during a press conference alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr  Zelensky, vowing to help Kyiv win on the battlefield before any peace talks could take place with Moscow. 

Biden’s remarks, which came during an unprecedented visit to Washington by Zelensky, underscored a view that U.S. assistance for Ukraine — military, economic and humanitarian — must continue for an undetermined amount of time into the future. 

What was said: Biden also suggested that an end to the war would mean a win by Ukraine on the battlefield, which would also strengthen future potential talks between Zelensky and the Kremlin. 

  • “We’re going to help Ukraine succeed on the battlefield — if and when President Zelensky is ready to talk to the Russians, he will be able to succeed as well because he will have won on the battlefield,” Biden said.
  • Zelensky echoed the president’s remarks that a “just peace” for Ukraine is about ensuring all of the country’s territory was liberated — and secure — from Russia.  

No compromises: “For me, as a president, just peace is no compromises as to the sovereignty, freedom, territorial integrity of my country, payback for all the damages inflicted by Russian aggression,” Zelensky said. 

The historic wartime press conference at the White House came amid the Biden administration’s latest bulk of assistance to Ukraine during its war with Russia, most notably in the form of an additional $2 billion in security and humanitarian aid that includes a Patriot missile battery, an advanced aerial defense system to help Ukraine against Russia’s targeted attacks on the country’s energy and electricity infrastructure. 

Winter as a weapon: “Russia is using winter as a weapon,” Biden said. “Freezing people, starving people, cutting them off from one another. It’s the latest example of the outrageous atrocities the Russians are committing against innocent Ukrainian civilians, children and their families.” 

Praise: Biden also praised Ukraine’s military successes, saying that, “Ukraine has won the battle of Kyiv, won the battle Kherson, won the battle of Kharkiv, defied Russia’s expectation at every single turn” and praised Zelensky for being open to “pursuing peace, a just peace.” 

Dangers to come: But the president added, “We know that Putin has no intention of stopping this cruel war.” 

Zelensky and his top officials have been warning in recent days that Russia is preparing to renew its invasion on Ukraine with a massive ground offensive with an estimated 200,000 troops. 

A historic visit: Zelensky spoke to the historic nature of his visit to Washington, his first trip outside of Ukraine since Russia launched a full scale invasion in February, and said the main mission of his trip was to “strengthen Ukraine.” 

The Ukrainian president, who is also addressing a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday, spoke to concerns that some Republicans have expressed opposition to continued U.S. assistance to Kyiv, even as the majority of Democratic and Republican lawmakers have voiced commitment to supporting Ukraine. 

Read the rest here 

US to send Patriot system to Ukraine in new package

The United States for the first time will send a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine as part of a major $1.85 billion weapons package, the Pentagon revealed Wednesday.  

The make up: The new lethal assistance, announced in concert with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington, D.C., includes $1 billion in presidential drawdown authority, which has the U.S. military pull weapons from its own stockpiles to send to Kyiv. 

Another $850 million in assistance will come via the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, meaning the Defense Department will buy directly from industry. 

A major weapon: The package will include one Patriot air defense battery and munitions. The vehicle-mounted system is designed to hit mid- and high-altitude targets such as missiles, fighter jets, bombers and drones in order to protect military and civilian targets.  

“Russia’s unrelenting and brutal air attacks against critical infrastructure have only reinforced the need to provide Ukraine with sophisticated air defense capabilities,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “At President Biden’s direction, the United States has prioritized the provision of air defense systems to help Ukraine defend its people from Russian aggression.” 

Initial hesitation: Until now, the United States had held off on sending the Patriot system to Ukraine over fears it could escalate the war. But the Biden administration has changed its position after weeks of deliberation over the highly classified technology the weapon contains.   

Also included: The weapons package also includes additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), 500 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds, mortar systems and rounds, 37 Cougar Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, 120 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, six armored utility trucks; High-speed Anti-radiation missiles (HARMs), precision aerial munitions, 2,700 grenade launchers and small arms and other equipment and arms. 

Read that here 

Also from The Hill

Ambassador to Russia named before Zelensky visit

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Lynne Tracy as the new U.S. ambassador to Russia, backing her nomination on the same day Ukraine’s president is making a historic visit to Washington that serves to underscore support for Kyiv amid Russia’s invasion. 

Tracy will take over the diplomatic post at a period of rock-bottom relations between the U.S. and Russia, with contacts between Moscow and Washington constricted to the highest levels of government and on only the most sensitive issues. 

The vote: The Senate confirmed Tracy in a vote of 93-2, with Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) both voting “no.” 

  • Tracy, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Armenia, will be tasked with “standing up to” Russian President Vladimir Putin, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.
  • Schumer said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “could not arrive at a more crucial moment for the Senate” and urged the chamber to also pass another $45 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine as part of Congress’s massive year-end funding bill for fiscal 2023. 

About the role: Tracy’s arrival in Moscow comes after the previous ambassador, John Sullivan, left the post in September shortly before the death of his wife.  

The role of ambassador in Moscow is viewed as a key communication link with the Kremlin in efforts to advance U.S. interests, which include restarting talks on nuclear nonproliferation — the most recent talks being “postponed” by Russian over U.S. support for Ukraine. 

Tracy will also be tasked with trying to secure the release of Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Moscow since 2018 and convicted on espionage charges. The Biden administration has criticized his detention as unjust, supporting Whelan’s assertions, and those of his family, that the spying charges are trumped up. 

Read the rest here 


That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!