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Zelenskyy visits USA, seeking more weapons to deter Russia

KYIV/WASHINGTON, Dec 21 – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is on his way to Washington on Wednesday to meet with President Joe Biden, address Congress and seek “guns, guns and more weapons” on his first foreign trip since Russian invasion of Ukraine after 300 days.

Zelenskyy said the visit was aimed at strengthening Ukraine’s “resilience and defense capabilities” amid repeated Russian attacks on energy and water supplies in the dead of winter.

Presidential political adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the visit showed a high level of trust between the two countries and offered him an opportunity to explain what weapons Kyiv needs.

“This finally puts an end to the Russian side’s attempts … to prove the alleged growing cooling in our bilateral relations,” Podoljak told Reuters.

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“Of course, this is far from it, the United States clearly supports Ukraine.

Biden will announce nearly $2 billion in additional military aid to Ukraine, which will include a Patriot missile battery to help defend against Russian missile fire, a senior U.S. official said.

“…Guns, guns and more guns. It’s important to personally explain why we need certain types of weapons,” Podoljak said. “Especially armored vehicles, the latest missile defense systems, and long-range missiles.

Zelensky’s visit was expected to last several hours.

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He will meet with Biden at the White House at 2:30 p.m. (1930 GMT), to attend a joint press conference with the US President and then go to Capitol Hill to address a joint session of the US Senate and House of Representatives.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 with the goal of capturing Kyiv within days, a goal that quickly proved unattainable. Russian President Vladimir Putin is launching what he calls Russia’s “special military operation” to “denazify” Ukraine as Moscow finally stands up to the West in its bid to capitalize on the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 by destroying Russia.

Since then, thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed, millions have been forced from their homes, and entire cities have been reduced to ruins.

Putin showed defiance on Wednesday when he spoke at a year-end meeting of top defense chiefs, declaring that Russian forces would fight like heroes, be equipped with modern weapons, spare no expense and achieve all of Moscow’s goals.

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Biden will come face to face with a man he has spoken to regularly for the past 10 months but has not met in person since the war broke out. He will not use the talks to push Zelensky to the negotiating table with Putin, the US official said.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that it saw no chance of peace talks with Kyiv. Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the continued supply of Western weapons to Ukraine will lead to a “deepening” of the conflict.

The Biden administration has provided roughly $20 billion in military aid to Ukraine, including artillery munitions, munitions for NASAMS air defense systems, and for highly mobile artillery rocket systems (HIMARS).

Zelensky has repeatedly called on the West to supply more weapons.

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‘BAKHMUT FORTRESS’

On Tuesday, he made a surprise trip to the eastern town of Bakhmut, his office said, stressing the importance of defending it against Russia’s stuttering but persistent attempts to capture it.

Zelenskyy called it a trip to the “Bakhmut fortress” in Donetsk, a province claimed by Russia in September, in a video address overnight. Most countries reject Russia’s claims as an illegal occupation.

Dressed in combat khaki, Zelensky handed out medals to soldiers at the wrecked industrial complex to applause, according to a video released by his office.

By contrast, Putin awarded medals at the Kremlin’s convenience to Russian-appointed leaders of four regions of Ukraine that Russia claims to have annexed.

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A video posted on Ukrinform TV, part of Ukraine’s state news agency, showed soldiers in Bakhmut handing Zelensky a Ukrainian flag with their signatures.

“From the guys, we will pass it on to Congress and the president of the United States,” Zelensky said in the video. “We are grateful for the support. But it is not enough,” he added.

On Tuesday, Putin acknowledged problems with Russian forces in parts of Ukraine, including what Russia calls the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in the east.

The Ukrainian military administration in Luhansk said Russian mining had slowed down Ukrainian forces in the area.

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“The most difficult direction on the entire front line is Bachmut,” the Telegram said. “The Russians set themselves the goal of winning at least some victory there.”

The US Senate has introduced a government funding bill that includes $44.9 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine and NATO allies. The money would be used for military training, equipment, logistics and intelligence support, as well as replenishing US equipment sent to Ukraine.

The World Bank announced on Tuesday that it had approved an additional financial package for Ukraine totaling $610 million to address urgent aid and reconstruction needs.

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