Moments after they emerged from a two-hour closed-door meeting in the Oval Office, President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared at a press conference in the crowded East Room of the White House.
Biden told Zelenskyy that he “will never stand alone” and said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “using winter as a weapon” by “destroying systems that provide heat and light in the coldest and darkest part of the year,” which is why the United States “will give Ukraine what it needs to defend itself and succeed on the battlefield.”
Zelenskyy thanked the U.S. government for its continued support, calling the meeting with Biden “a historic moment” while encouraging Congress to pass the $1.7 trillion government spending package that contains roughly $45 billion in economic, humanitarian, and military support for Ukraine.
In November, the White House requested $37.7 billion in funding for Ukraine.
Legislators are attempting to negotiate terms that will see agreement for passing the omnibus legislation to avoid a partial government shutdown on Dec. 23.
“In 2019, I became president and, at that time, we were sending messages to Putin that there should not be a full-scale invasion, and we should find a diplomatic solution,” Zelenskyy said at the press conference. “He [Putin] said it wouldn’t happen. He was lying.”
Before his arrival, the State Department announced a new $1.85 billion aid package for Ukraine, bringing the overall financial support to about $22 billion.
The package includes a Patriot missile defense system, which is designed to shoot down aircraft and missiles, and Joint Direct Attack Munitions kits, which convert aerial munitions into smart bombs.
Armored vehicles, ammunition, and mortars are also part of the package.
Zelenskyy said that the Patriot missile defense system will “strengthen air defense significantly” and is “an important step to secure air space for Ukraine and prevent attacks on the country’s energy sector.”
“We need to survive this winter,” he said. “This is a survival issue.”
The trip marks Zelenskyy’s first foreign visit since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Russia has escalated strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure to deprive Ukrainians of heat and other resources during the harsh winter months.
“Nothing is a substitute for sitting down face to face with friend or foe and looking them in the eye, which is what is happening here today,” Biden said at the press conference. “Putin will never occupy all of Ukraine, and there is no way he will be accepted by all of the Ukrainian people.
“A free, independent, prosperous, and secure Ukraine is our vision. We want the war to end, and it can end today if Putin had dignity and pulled out. That is not going to happen. We talked today about continuing to help Ukraine succeed on the battlefield.”
Zelenskyy was asked by a reporter to describe what a “just peace” to end the war would represent.
The Ukrainian leader said that, for him, a “just peace” means not compromising Ukraine’s sovereignty, freedom, or territorial integrity and getting payback for damages that Russia has inflicted.
He noted that no money could compensate Ukraine’s parents for the sons and daughters they've lost in the war.
Hours before the press conference, Zelenskyy was greeted with handshakes from Biden and the first lady as he arrived at the White House.
The Ukrainian leader joined Biden in making brief remarks before the two men met in the Oval Office.
During their meeting in the Oval Office, Biden said, “The Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world. I mean that sincerely. Not just inspire us but inspire the world with their courage and how they have the resilience and resolve for their future.
“We're going to continue to strengthen Ukraine's ability to defend itself, particularly air defense.”
In June, Biden reportedly lost his temper and raised his voice in a phone conversation with Zelenskyy as the Ukrainian leader asked for more aid. Media reports indicated that Biden told Zelenskyy that he should be more thankful for the support from the American people he had received to that point.
At the press conference, after praising the United States for providing its most advanced ground-based air defense system, Zelenskyy joked that he wanted more patriot missile defense systems in addition to what was provided in the $1.85 billion aid package.
Biden grinned and laughed, and he explained that the Patriots are “a defensive weapon system” and that “we’d love to not have to have them use it.”
The two leaders praised each other at different points during the press conference.
Zelenskyy said that he's “standing here in the U.S. with President Biden because I respect him as a person, a president, and a human being.”
Biden praised Zelenskyy, saying that “it is clear who he is” and that he's “willing to give his life for his country.”