By Makini Brice, Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to U.S. lawmakers on Thursday for continued support in the war with Russia amid Republican skepticism over whether Congress should approve a new round of aid for his country.
After seeking to shore up international support at the United Nations, Zelenskiy came to Washington on a crosstown blitz that included meetings with military leaders at the Pentagon and a visit to the U.S. Capitol ahead of an address in the evening at the National Archives museum.
In the afternoon, Zelenskiy arrived at the White House to meet with President Joe Biden, who was set to announce a new $325 million military aid package for Ukraine.
While Biden and most congressional leaders still support aid to Ukraine, and Biden’s Democrats control the Senate, Zelenskiy faces a tougher crowd than when he visited Washington nine months ago.
Dressed in military green to reflect his status as a wartime leader, Zelenskiy briefed the full U.S. Senate in the Capitol’s historic Old Senate Chamber, receiving several standing ovations, according to a post on the platform X by Senator Chris Murphy.
“We had great dialogue,” Zelenskiy told reporters at the Capitol after the meeting.
Zelenskiy told Senators that military aid was crucial to Ukraine’s war effort, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in the Senate chamber after the briefing, which took place behind closed doors.
“If we don’t get the aid, we will lose the war,” Schumer quoted Zelenskiy as saying.
Zelenskiy held discussions with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior Pentagon leaders. He visited the Pentagon’s 9/11 memorial where he and his wife each placed a bouquet of sunflowers, irises and other flowers.
NEW AID PACKAGE
As Ukraine’s military counteroffensive grinds on and Congress stages a bitter debate over spending ahead of a possible government shutdown, a growing chorus of Republicans have questioned the billions of dollars Washington has sent Kyiv for military, economic and humanitarian needs.
“What is the point of cutting off support now when we’re at a turning point in the war?” said Schumer, a Democrat, taking aim at Republican critics of the aid. “Now is not the time to take the foot off the gas when it comes to helping Ukraine.”
The U.S. has sent some $113 billion in security and humanitarian aid to help Zelenskiy’s government since Russia invaded in February 2022.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration was focused on making sure there was the necessary support and resources for Ukraine.
“I believe, based on my consultations on the Hill with both Republicans and Democrats, that there will be,” Sullivan on Thursday said at a White House news briefing.
Biden will announce a new military aid package for Ukraine including air defense systems and other weaponry to help Kyiv ahead of a tough winter, Sullivan said.
The package will also include the second tranche of cluster munitions fired by a 155 millimeter Howitzer cannon, according to a U.S. official.
Russia carried out its biggest missile attack in weeks across Ukraine on Thursday, pounding energy facilities in what officials said appeared to be the first salvo in a new air campaign against the Ukrainian power grid.
‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’
Biden administration officials held a classified briefing for Congress on Wednesday evening to push for an additional $24 billion, saying if Russian President Vladimir Putin was allowed to take control of Ukraine and pushed through to the border of NATO, the cost to the United States would be much higher.
But some Republicans were not convinced.
Republican Senator J.D. Vance said the United States “is being asked to fund an indefinite conflict with unlimited resources.”
“Enough is enough,” he said in a post on X, which included a letter dated Thursday to the director of the Office of Management and Budget questioning the aid and signed by Republicans from both houses of Congress.
Congress approved Ukraine assistance easily when both the Senate and House were controlled by Democrats. Zelenskiy, who has become a powerful advocate for his country, was greeted as a hero when he addressed a joint meeting of Congress in December.
Solid majorities of Americans support providing weaponry to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia, Reuters/Ipsos polling shows.
(Reporting by Makini Brice, Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; writing by Patricia Zengerle and Simon Lewis; editing by Don Durfee, Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell)
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