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In first wartime foreign trip, Zelensky heads to US to collect 'weapons and more weapons'

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

In his first overseas trip since the outbreak of war in February, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is traveling to the US on Wednesday to secure more weapons as fighting escalates in the war-ravaged country.

Zelensky's advisor Mykhailo Podolyak announced that the Ukrainian leader was traveling to Washington to meet with his American counterpart Joe Biden and to address the US Congress, a trip which will be his first overseas travel since Russia launched a military operation in Ukraine on February 24.

Podolyak said the trip, which is expected to last several hours, would demonstrate the high degree of trust between the two countries. 

“This finally puts an end to the attempts by the Russian side ... to prove an allegedly growing cooling in our bilateral relations," he was quoted as saying.

Earlier, Zelensky said he was going to the US for talks with Biden to boost what he called Ukraine’s “resilience and defense capabilities” amid Russia's recent escalated attacks, particularly on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in the dead of winter.

Such crippling attacks, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, are intended to degrade Kiev’s ability to transport troops, and Western-supplied weapons and equipment to the battlefield by rail. 

“This, of course, is not even close. The United States unequivocally supports Ukraine. ...Weapons, weapons and more weapons. It is important to personally explain why we need certain types of weapons. In particular, armored vehicles, the latest missile defense systems and long-range missiles,” Podolyak said.

Russia started what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine with the declared aim of “de-Nazifying” the country, and following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Since the onset of the war, the US and its European allies have imposed waves of unprecedented economic sanctions against Moscow while supplying large consignments of heavy weaponry to Kiev. The Kremlin says the sanctions and the Western military assistance will prolong the war.

Despite the flow of financial and military support, particularly from Washington, the government in Kiev says still more is needed to tip the balance in Ukraine's favor in the 10-month-old campaign against Russia.

Washington officially announced on December 9 its decision to send another arms package to Kiev, which will include anti-drone and air defense systems.

The aid package which, reportedly includes rockets for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), 155mm ammunition, Humvee vehicles, and generators, is estimated to be worth $275 million.

The US has also sent some $20 billion worth of weapons to Kiev, including artillery ammunition, munitions for NASAMS air defense systems and for HIMARS.

Early this week, Zelensky asked European leaders for more air defense systems, tanks and weapons, against the backdrop of the protracted war with Russia.

Apart from meeting with Biden at the White House, Zelensky is expected to meet with top national security aides, and participate in a joint news conference with the American president and then go to Capitol Hill to address a joint session of the US Senate and House of Representatives.

Separately on Wednesday, the Kremlin ruled out any possibility of holding peace talks with Kiev as the unabated flow of Western arms supplies into Ukraine just leads to a “deepening” of the conflict.

In another move of financial support to Ukraine, the World Bank on Tuesday said it had approved an additional financing package for Ukraine totaling $610 million to address urgent relief and recovery needs.

Trump ally blasts Zelensky's visit to US

In a tweet on Tuesday, Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a staunch ally of former US President Donald Trump, denounced Zelensky’s upcoming trip to Washington, expressing outrage over his anticipated efforts to gain more support.

Greene, who represents Georgia’s 14th District, described Zelensky as a “shadow president” who “has to come to Congress and explain why he needs billions of American’s taxpayer dollars for the 51st state, Ukraine.” 

“This is absurd," she said, urging Biden to “Put America First!!!” 

Greene’s opposition to the extravagant support of Ukraine is not new. Last month, she spearheaded a resolution calling for an audit of the White House's funding to help Ukraine in the conflict with Russia. The initiative, however, was narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives, with Democrats claiming that such a move could send the wrong signal to Kiev.

Russia’s Medvedev talks strategic partnership with China’s Xi

In another development on Wednesday, Russia’s former President Dmitry Medvedev met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in an unannounced two-day trip to Beijing, where he passed on President Vladimir Putin’s message hailing “unprecedented” cooperation.

In a video posted on his Telegram messaging app channel, Medvedev, who is currently the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, described the talks as “quite useful.” He said he had discussed Russia and China’s economic and manufacturing strategic partnership as well as the current war in Ukraine, and cooperation between the two countries’ ruling parties with the Chinese president.

According to Russia’s TASS news agency, Putin’s message “noted the unprecedented level of Russian-Chinese political dialogue and practical cooperation and expressed confidence in the continued progressive development of interstate and inter-party ties.”

Medvedev and Xi, according to TASS, “noted the broad convergence in Moscow and Beijing’s approaches to the world’s most pressing issues and touched on strategic foreign policy coordination.”

Earlier this month, Russian media reported that Putin and Xi were due to hold talks in late December. Since Xi Putin described the friendship between the two as having “no limits,” Washington has become more vigilant about the relations between Beijing and Moscow.

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