Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that Speaker Kevin McCarthy suggested he backs additional assistance for Ukraine, but the California Republican noted he has to overcome fierce GOP critics in the House.
Zelensky, in an interview with a small group of journalists from U.S. media on Thursday evening, was positive about his meeting with the Speaker earlier in the day, describing it as good and noting that they understand each other.
“He said that they will be on our side — it’s not simple — that they will support.”
McCarthy’s office didn’t immediately reply to The Hill’s request for comment
The Ukrainian president left Washington after a whirlwind day of meetings Thursday with Congress, the Pentagon and President Biden. Republican hard-liners used his visit as an opportunity to demonstrate their opposition to aid for Ukraine.
This included more than two dozen lawmakers writing a letter demanding answers from the White House that they say are essential to their decision to agree on more funds for Ukraine.
A small group of House Republicans also tanked efforts to pass a Department of Defense spending bill. One of them, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), said she voted down the measure because it included security assistance for Ukraine.
President Biden also held back on announcing that the U.S. would provide long-range missile systems that Zelensky has said are critical for Ukrainian forces to put Russian forces on their back heel as a counteroffensive launched in early summer grinds into the winter.
Still, Zelensky appeared optimistic about eventually receiving the missiles — Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), which have a range of nearly 190 miles and are key to strike Russian positions far beyond the line of contact. The could be of particular use against Russian positions in the region of Crimea, which Moscow took over in 2015.
“We have to. I think yes. … Because we don’t have another way out,” Zelensky said of receiving the weapons.
Zelensky, who has earlier acknowledged that Ukraine was too slow to begin its summer counteroffensive, said Thursday night that looking ahead to winter, it is not an option for Ukrainian forces to stop pushing forward. The lesson learned from the delay in the summer was that Russia was able to entrench itself, frustrating Ukrainian forces.
“We can’t stop during the winter. My answer is we will do everything not to stop during the difficult days in autumn with not good weather,” he said.
He further stressed that any pause in fighting would allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to restock, resupply and reinforce his military, with people and weapons.
“I know what Putin wants. I know it … [as] one of the best persons who understands him very well, 100 percent. And I know that he needs a pause. Because he really lost people, professional army, lost. They’re dead.”
Retaking Bakhmut is essential, the Ukrainian president said, to push back on Russian propaganda that claimed the city as a major victory in May, largely using the private military group Wagner.
“We will deoccupy Bakhmut,” he said, adding that Ukrainian forces have a “comprehensive plan” to liberate more territory.
“I think that we will deoccupy two more cities. I will not tell you what cities, sorry,” he said, with a smirk. “And so we have the plan. Very, very comprehensive plan.”
The Ukrainian president was in good spirits during the meeting with journalists, beginning the discussion smiling, alternating into a more serious tone when discussing the stakes for Ukraine and the world.
“I don’t love this history. Because people are dead. And I know that all of us, we didn’t stop him. All of us. It’s true. We didn’t stop him,” he said of the lessons learned in not pushing back harder against Putin.
Still, the Ukrainian president said one of the most important aspects of Ukraine’s fight against Russia is maintaining global unity that is increasingly under pressure as countries, in particular the U.S., face domestic concerns that overshadow support for Ukraine, or global crises that divert attention and resources.
Zelensky was in Washington after making an appeal at the United Nations General Assembly to the body’s 193 members to stand up against Russia over its aggression, warning that Putin’s war against Ukraine will not end at the borders and will threaten all countries.
He highlighted specific bilateral meetings that he felt delivered positive results, in particular with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Relations between Kyiv and Jerusalem are strained because Israel has maintained close relations with Russia.
Zelensky said that closer relations between Ukraine and Israel are essential to push back on Iran, which Netanyahu identifies as posing an existential threat to his country. Iran has provided Russian with drones and other weapons for its war in Ukraine.
“I’m happy with meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. … It’s good for Ukraine. But I really think that is even better for Israel. Because there is a dangerous moment, and we have to be very serious with Iran.”
But the Ukrainian president emphasized that the most important relationship is with the United States.
Ahead of the small meeting with journalists, Zelensky presided over an event at the National Archives commending American volunteers who had donated time and resources to Ukraine, including medical care and humanitarian support.
“There’s not a single Ukrainian who doesn’t feel gratitude for America,” Zelensky told the crowd.
“America has saved Ukrainian lives.”
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