President Joe Biden on Wednesday told Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the U.S. would "stand with" Ukraine for the long haul, announcing a new military aid package for the country during a historic Washington visit from the Ukrainian leader.
Exactly 300 days since Russia invaded its neighbor, it marked the Zelenskyy's first known trip outside his country since the war began.
"The American people, we're with you every step of the way. And we will stay with you. We will stay with you for as long as it takes," Biden said. "It matters not just to Ukraine, but to the entire world."
"You will never stand alone," Biden pledged.
Zelenskyy thanked Biden, U.S. lawmakers and Americans for their ongoing economic, military and political support of his country, which he said made his visit Wednesday possible, calling it a "new phase" of relations with the United States.
Though the two men have spoken several times by phone and video call since the war began, this is their first time speaking about the conflict face to face.
Looking Zelenskyy in the eye, Biden said, it was clear: "This guy ... to his very soul is who he says he is. It's clear who he is. He's willing to give his life for his country."
For his part, Zelenskyy's message to the American people was simple: "I wish you peace."
"You understand it only when the war [is] in your country," he added. "I wish you to see your children alive and adult .... I think that is the main thing [that] I can wish you. And of course, to be together with us."
Ahead of Zelenskyy's visit, the U.S. announced a new $1.85 billion military aid package for Ukraine including a Patriot air defense battery, the first to go to Ukraine.
The missile system is intended to fight a single aircraft target with a single missile. The new package also includes precision-guided bombs for fighter jets.
U.S. forces will train Ukrainian forces on how to operate the Patriot system in a third allied country, then take their knowledge back to Ukraine for operation, a senior administration official said. The U.S. will also continue to provide other forms of anti-air support, anti-armor weaponry, and counter-aerial surveillance equipment. But the U.S. will continue to keep its forces out of Ukraine.
Zelenskyy was expected to ask Biden for more sophisticated weapons during their meeting Wednesday.
Though the two leaders didn't detail any new requests during their press conference, Biden responded to a question from a reporter about why the U.S. did not offer Ukraine more Patriot systems now.
"We're looking to do more," he said, but he added that both the U.S. and NATO allies did not want to escalate the war outside of Ukraine or risk provoking Russia.
Zelenskyy was scheduled to address Congress later Wednesday, which will likely soon approve about $45 billion in aid for Ukraine for 2023, a number higher than the White House's original request.
"All my appreciation ... from my heart and all of Ukraine," Zelenskyy said earlier Wednesday in the Oval Office, presenting Biden with a combat medal on behalf of a Ukrainian army captain fighting in the critical Donbas region, whom Zelenskyy said he met with the day before. The captain wanted Zelenskyy to deliver Biden the medal and his thanks.
In exchange, Biden gifted two command coins, one for the captain and one for Zelenskyy.
When he arrived earlier Wednesday, the Ukrainian flag flapped outside Blair House, the accomodations across from the White House often used for heads of state. Other flags lined Pennsylvania Avenue, which stretches from the White House to the U.S. Capitol.
Zelenskyy's arrival in Washington coincided with the 300th day since Russia began its attack on Ukraine — a fight that has dragged out as Ukrainian forces have put up stronger-than-expected resistance against the Russians. Their stand has been bolstered by support from more than 50 countries, and the United States most significantly. Thus far, Congress has approved a total of $66 billion in aid supporting Ukraine, along with an additional commitment of $19.7 billion in security assistance, according to the Department of Defense.
The White House also anticipates the swift passage of about $45 billion in funding for Ukraine as part of a larger full-year government spending bill, which both chambers are expected to vote on by the end of this week.
Both Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell celebrated Zelenskyy's visit and reiterated their support to Ukraine as the Russian invasion persists.
McConnell added that the support to Ukraine has been bipartisan because it ultimately helps the U.S.: "America is directly demonstrating our commitment to the basic principles of territorial integrity and national sovereignty," he said.
Some Republicans have criticized the large amount of aid allotted to Ukraine, with the likely House leader Kevin McCarthy warning he would no longer allow a "blank check" in support once the new Congress begins.
Asked about whether the same amount of bipartisan support will persist, Biden on Wednesday said he was "not worried at all about holding the alliance together."
Zelenskyy is not taking the trip to Washington without some measure of risk, even with security parameters set up by the United States. But, the official said, Zelenskyy feels that the visit will ultimately aid Ukraine in its fight against Russia, and that the visit will project a “strong message of unity and resolve."