July 15, 2024

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden vowed continued support for Ukraine as he met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at the White House amid concern that the country’s slow counteroffensive and opposition among conservative Republicans could threaten additional military assistance.

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“The people of Ukraine have shown enormous bravery, enormous bravery, that has inspired the world,” Biden said Thursday at the White House. “Together with our partners and our allies, the American people are determined to see to it that we do all we can to ensure the world stands with you.”

The success of Zelenskiy’s trip hinges on whether a small-but-crucial bloc of the US House’s Republican majority approves more aid after existing appropriations run dry at the end of the month. A series of preliminary votes on funding packages failed this week, heightening fears of a broader government shutdown — and a pause in Ukraine assistance.

Zelenskiy told reporters his trip was “very important.”

Ahead of the meeting, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said he remained confident that after settling “all the other elements going into these negotiations that have nothing to do with Ukraine, that there will be strong bipartisan support to continue funding Ukraine.”

The White House also announced a package of military assistance that includes air defense capabilities, ammunition for HIMARS systems and other weaponry.

“These capabilities will help Ukraine harden its defenses ahead of what is likely to be a tough winter, filled with renewed Russian attacks on Ukrainian critical infrastructure, to try to deprive innocent people of necessities like heat and electricity,” Sullivan said.

Read More: Russia Hits Ukrainian Power Grid With Missiles as UN Meets

On Capitol Hill earlier Thursday, Zelenskiy asked for new weapons systems from the US, including F-16 fighter jets and longer-range ATACMS missiles, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul said after a meeting with the Ukrainian leader.

“A war of attrition is not going to win this,” said McCaul, who is among the Republicans who support ongoing aid. “We need a plan for victory, and we need to do it soon.”

Continued backing from the US and its allies is vital for Zelenskiy as his forces struggle to advance against Russian troops still occupying about 17% of his territory, fueling doubts about his ability to oust them completely.

Cracks have begun to emerge in the support for Kyiv, with Poland, a key ally, this week threatening to suspend arms deliveries in a dispute over grain shipments. At the same time, Zelenskiy’s efforts to win over major countries of the developing world at the United Nations General Assembly this week have yielded few visible results.

Read More: Poland Seeks to Mend Ukraine Rift With Arms Supplies U-Turn

In Washington, the reception for Zelenskiy was cooler than during his last visit in December, when he spoke to a joint session of Congress. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who has clamored for accountability of Ukraine aid the US has already committed, told reporters that he rejected Zelenskiy’s request for a similar speech this time because lawmakers didn’t have time in a “busy week.”

After the meeting Thursday, McCarthy said Zelenskiy “answered a lot my questions.” Reiterating his support for Ukraine in the war, McCarthy said he’s “more than willing to look at” the requested aid package but he wants Biden to address the US border with Mexico before funding Ukraine.

Freezing new aid has become a ransom demand in the broader clash over government spending and a conservative Republicans’ efforts to challenge the embattled speaker.

Far-right representatives have said the funding antagonizes Russian President Vladimir Putin, could be better spent domestically, or should instead be devoted to bolstering Taiwan’s defenses.

The request also comes as Ukraine’s partners increasingly see a prolonged battle. A senior official from one European Group of Seven country said the war may last as long as six or seven more years — an assessment shared by other allies and largely based on Ukraine’s slow progress in its counteroffensive.

While most Republicans have supported Ukraine aid, a band of about 70 have opposed it, and McCarthy can lose no more than four Republicans to pass any bill without Democratic votes. Support among Republican senators is greater than in the House.

–With assistance from Erik Wasson, Laura Litvan and Kailey Leinz.

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