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Question worth billions: Zelenskyy meets with Biden

Question worth billions: Zelenskyy meets with Biden Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Joe Biden meet for the second year in a row on Christmas Eve (Photo: Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is to meet with U.S. lawmakers and President Joe Biden today. The trip comes amid a heated debate in the Senate over billions of dollars in military aid tied to a crackdown on illegal migration across the southern border.

Read more about Zelenskyy's visit to the United States and expectations in RBC-Ukraine's article.

The material was prepared based on the announcements of the Office of the President of Ukraine and the White House, publications of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as a commentary by political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko for RBC-Ukraine.

Zelenskyy's visit to the United States became known during his trip to the inauguration of Argentina's newly elected President Javier Milea. According to the Office, a series of meetings and talks are scheduled for December 12. The Ukrainian leader will focus on ensuring the unity of the United States, Europe, and the world around supporting Ukraine in its defense against Russian terror. He will also focus on strengthening the international order based on rules and respect for the sovereignty of each nation.

"Key topics for discussions in Washington will include the continuation of defense cooperation between Ukraine and the United States, particularly specific joint projects on the production of weapons and air defense systems, as well as coordination of efforts between our countries in the coming year," the Presidential Office said.

The meeting with Biden at the White House was confirmed by his press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre. At the reception, the American president will emphasize the United States' unwavering commitment to supporting the people of Ukraine.

She added that amid Russia's escalating missile and drone strikes against Ukraine, the leaders will discuss the immediate needs of Ukraine and underscore the crucial importance of ongoing U.S. support during this critical period.

Питання на мільярди. Зеленський зустрінеться з Байденом і не тільки: головне про візит до США

Volodymyr Zelenskyy will meet with Joe Biden again today (Photo: Getty Images)

This trip will be Zelenskyy's third visit to Washington since the start of the full-scale war. He previously visited less than three months ago in September. The December visit comes at a critical time in congressional negotiations over an emergency aid package. Senators and congressmen appear to be no closer to a deal that ties tougher immigration policy to an emergency aid package. And there is a real threat that the issues of support for Ukraine and Israel will stall as lawmakers leave for their Christmas recess at the end of the week.

On Tuesday morning, Zelenskyy will also address senators at the invitation of Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. After that, he is scheduled to meet with House Speaker Mike Johnson. It was in the lower house of Congress that there were previously the biggest differences. While the right wing of the Republican Party is in favor of cutting aid to Ukraine, Republicans in general are ready to support the package, but on their terms.

Key meetings and the main issue

According to The New York Times, Zelenskyy's visit may be the last attempt to push Congress to a positive decision for Ukraine in 2023. Last week, Republicans blocked an emergency spending package worth more than $110 billion.

The Republicans' position is that any measures to finance Ukraine must be accompanied by changes in U.S. laws to tighten immigration policy, which were not included in the bill.

Joe Biden and his aides have warned that withdrawal of support for Kyiv in the coming months could pave the way for a victory for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Last week, the head of Ukraine's Presidential Office, Andriy Yermak, warned of the threat of losing the war if Washington delays aid. In response, Republicans argue that neither Biden nor Zelenskyy has provided a clear plan for victory and that the war has allegedly reached a stalemate.

Today, Zelenskyy will have the opportunity to meet directly with some lawmakers. In the morning, a closed meeting with senators will take place. The meeting was organized by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (Senator from New York) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Senator from Kentucky).

Питання на мільярди. Зеленський зустрінеться з Байденом і не тільки: головне про візит до США

Republicans are tying military aid to Ukraine to tougher immigration laws (Photo: Getty Images)

Last week, Zelenskyy was scheduled to speak at a similar closed briefing, but canceled at the last minute. The meeting turned into a dispute over the Republican Party's border demands, so the Ukrainian president's speech became inappropriate, political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko explained.

In a comment to RBC-Ukraine, he mentioned that there is an opportunity for a direct meeting with senators without engaging in a confrontational discussion. Zelenskyy is expected to refrain from discussing the bill directly, focusing instead on the military situation and explaining the urgency of American assistance. The goal is to secure support from both the Senate and the House of Representatives before the impending Christmas recess, which is less than a week away. The visit is seen as an attempt to provide the necessary momentum in the final days of 2023.

Before that, Zelenskyy visited Washington in September and met with senators in the Capitol. But he was never invited to speak to members of the House of Representatives, where the Republican majority voted against military aid. A few weeks after the visit, Congress decided not to include billions for Ukraine in the government funding bill to avoid a shutdown. This was the first time since the beginning of the Russian invasion that the issue of military support for our country was raised.

American media emphasize that significant differences need to be overcome in the Senate as well. The Democratic negotiator, Senator Christopher Murphy (Connecticut), calls the Republican Party's demands unreasonable.

Senator Christopher Murphy, speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, suggested that if he were a cynic, he might interpret the Republicans' linkage of support for Ukraine to immigration reform as a strategy to undermine assistance to Ukraine.

In response, Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford rejected the accusations and said that Congress could solve both problems simultaneously.

Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford pointed out the question of why there is a focus on addressing others' security while neglecting America's national security. He emphasized the ability to address both aspects simultaneously.

Republicans are demanding a serious tightening of immigration laws aimed at reducing the illegal flow across the border with Mexico. In particular, the ability to stop processing asylum applications right at the border (as was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic); detention of applicants and the introduction of a "stay in Mexico" policy; and restrictions on parole. The Biden administration used the latter tool to speed up the admission of Afghans and Ukrainians.

According to the WSJ, the number of daily border crossings is at a record high, with about 10,000 recorded in one day. The U.S. Border Patrol is overwhelmed, with migrants being held in the open air for days at a time instead of at border posts.

The Biden administration is ready to discuss serious concessions. This includes strengthening the standards for the initial review of migrant cases, placement in "safe third countries," and expanding the possibilities for rapid deportation. The debate on these issues continues.

Negotiations with Biden. What will Zelenskyy discuss?

Given the pending issue of military aid to Ukraine, the key meetings will be with American lawmakers. However, negotiations with Joe Biden are no less important. They will discuss Ukraine's urgent needs and U.S. support at a critical time when Russia is gathering forces for a spring offensive.

At the meeting at the White House, the leaders will check their watches, and discuss the defense aspect, i.e., specific things to expect in 2024, including how they see future cooperation between Ukraine and the United States. Loud statements may be made as a result of the visit. Perhaps on new agreements in the defense sector, which has been on the rise lately.

Питання на мільярди. Зеленський зустрінеться з Байденом і не тільки: головне про візит до США

Volodymyr Zelenskyy may discuss some "backup options" with Biden (Photo: Getty Images)

According to political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko, some backup options may be discussed if the Senate and House of Representatives do not vote on the package by the end of the year. In this case, it is necessary to agree on American support for the next month or two.

"The second is a more strategic task - the coordination of a comprehensive political strategy for the next year, related to systemic support for Ukraine. What needs to be done, how to help us so that we at least withstand the increased Russian pressure, and if possible, turn the situation in our favor," he told RBC-Ukraine.

Zelenskyy and Biden may also discuss Euro-Atlantic integration in the context of the NATO summit to be held in Washington next year and security guarantees. In addition, they may discuss peace talks with Russia if the Ukrainian Defense Forces fail to turn the tide at the front in 2024.

"There is nothing wrong here; different options should be considered. A strategic pause in the war may be extremely necessary for us. Someone may not like it, but such a need may arise. And therefore, it is necessary to think in advance about a negotiating option that would be acceptable to us. And also determine what things will be unacceptable in the negotiation process," the political scientist added.

Read more about this and why it is difficult to predict the outcome of the visit in RBC-Ukraine's article "Decisive week: Zelenskyy's U.S. visit purposes and expected outcomes of the meeting with Biden."

It should be noted that the day before, in an interview with Latin American media, Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected the possibility of negotiations with Vladimir Putin and called him a murderer. He also ruled out the possibility of compromise with a dictator who does not want peace, an independent Ukraine, and whose word is worthless.

Aid for Ukraine. How much is offered and what is the problem

In October, Joe Biden submitted a $106 billion military aid package to Congress for Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific region, including Taiwan. The comprehensive package was intended to consolidate broad bipartisan support in response to the October 7, 2023, attack by Hamas terrorists on Israel, as well as to facilitate military supplies to Ukraine.

Питання на мільярди. Зеленський зустрінеться з Байденом і не тільки: головне про візит до США

Joe Biden criticizes Republicans and promises not to abandon Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression (Photo: Getty Images)

The newly elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, called for separate consideration of aid for Ukraine and Israel, and in November said that the Ukrainian issue would be tied to the protection of the border with Mexico. Later, the lower house of Congress approved $14.3 billion in aid to Israel. However, Biden's office warned that the bill without aid for Ukraine would be vetoed.

The Republican bill was then blocked by Democrats in the Senate. At the same time, they tried to include aid in the bill to prevent a shutdown. In mid-November, a document on financing the US government without additional funds for Ukraine and Israel was approved.

In early December, senators unveiled a package worth more than $110 billion. A summary states that it provides more than $15 billion for direct support to Ukraine, $10.6 billion for Israel, and $43.6 billion for measures to increase US arms and ammunition production capacity.

The bill was put up for a first procedural vote on December 6, but it failed as Republicans insisted on more radical proposals for the border with Mexico.

Biden calls it political blackmail and accuses Republicans of playing political games. According to him, the stakes are too high and the consequences are too significant for political games.

"The failure to support Ukraine is just absolutely crazy," he told reporters. "It's against U.S. interests," he said last week and promised that there would be additional funding for Ukraine in any case.