Ukraine's Zelensky awards Biden medal during White House visit

It was Zelensky’s first trip outside his country since the beginning of the war in February.

 US President Joe Biden welcomes Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, US, December 21, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)
US President Joe Biden welcomes Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, US, December 21, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)

WASHINGTON – Ten months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky landed at the United States capital for a historic meeting with President Joe Biden and a special address to a joint session of Congress.

He gave Biden the Ukrainian cross for military merit, offered by a captain it had been awarded to. Biden promised to give the captain a command coin from a US battlefield in Iraq, where his son Beau had fought.

It was Zelensky’s first trip outside his country since the beginning of the war in February.

According to a senior administration official, the visit was first discussed during a call last week, with the visit itself confirmed just Sunday.

Zelensky was greeted by the president and first lady Jill Biden at the White House’s South entrance before the two leaders headed to their meeting. It was their second face-to-face meeting, as Zelensky visited the White House in September 2021.

 US President Joe Biden welcomes Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, US, December 21, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE) US President Joe Biden welcomes Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, US, December 21, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)

The main agenda item for their two-hour meeting was additional US aid for Ukraine, as well as to “impose costs on the Kremlin,” as Biden said.

Biden and Zelensky meet

“Mr. President, it’s good to have you back,” Biden told Zelensky at the top of their meeting. “I’m delighted you could make the trip and be here. It’s an honor to be by your side in a united defense against 300 days of brutal assault on Ukraine.

Biden went on to say that Russian President Vladimir Putin “escalated his assaults on civilians, schools, hospitals and landmarks,” and that “he’s trying to use winter as a weapon, but the Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world.

“The American people stand proudly with them, Democrats and Republicans, together with our allies in Europe, Japan and other places, to make sure you have the financial, humanitarian and security assistance that is needed,” Biden said.

“We are going to continue to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, particularly in air defense. And that’s why we’re going to provide Ukraine with a Patriot missile battery, and in training your forces to be able to accurately use it,” he continued.

“Together, our partners are also going to continue to impose costs on the Kremlin and we will support Ukraine pursuing just peace. President Zelensky, the United States stands with the great people in Ukraine. We stand with you; you have been a great reader,” the US president told his Ukrainian counterpart.

Zelensky, making his remarks in English, warmly thanked Biden for the assistance that Washington has provided to his country since the beginning of the war.

“I understand that we have very important topics, and we will discuss so many challenges in Ukraine, in Europe, in the world, from energy to the situation in the battlefield. But first of all, I really – all my appreciations (sic) from my heart, from the heart of Ukrainians, all Ukrainians from our nation, strong nations, all appreciation to you for your big support and leadership,” Zelensky told Biden.

Blinken announces new aid package 

As soon as Zelensky landed as Joint Base Andrews, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new $1.8 billion aid package.

“Today’s assistance for the first time includes the Patriot Air Defense System, capable of bringing down cruise missiles, short-range ballistic missiles and aircraft at a significantly higher ceiling than previously provided air defense systems,” Blinken said in a statement.

“This will bring total US military assistance for Ukraine to an unprecedented $21.9 billion since the beginning of the administration,” he added.

“We will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes, so that Kyiv can continue to defend itself and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table when the time comes,” Blinken’s statement reads. The visit, he said, “underscores our enduring commitment to the people of Ukraine.”

The package was expected to include one Patriot air defense battery and munitions; additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS); 500 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds; 10 120mm mortar systems and 10,000 120mm mortar rounds; 37 Cougar Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicles; 120 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs); and High-speed Anti-radiation missiles (HARMs), among other systems.

Zelensky tweeted on his way to the US that he was coming “to strengthen the resilience and defense capabilities of Ukraine.”

“In particular, POTUS and I will discuss cooperation between the US and Ukraine. I will also have a speech at the Congress and a number of bilateral meetings,” he added.

Reuters contributed to this report.