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Zelensky returns to US Capitol to strengthen relations

Zelensky returns to US Capitol to strengthen relations

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REUTERS/KEVIN MOHATT

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Institute and Foundation on the sidelines of the NATO summit marking the 75th anniversary of NATO in Washington.

WASHINGTON >> Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelinsky returned to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to forge closer ties with lawmakers who will vote on future aid for his country, which could be jeopardized if former U.S. President Donald Trump is reelected.

Zelensky, who is in Washington this week for the NATO summit, was scheduled to meet with leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives and members of the committees on defense, spending, diplomacy and national security.

“This is an incredibly important mission and we need to support Ukraine,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner told Reuters.

The visit comes at a time of deep uncertainty over this year’s U.S. presidential election, which is between Democratic incumbent Joe Biden, a strong supporter of aid to Ukraine, and Republican Trump, who has expressed skepticism about the amount of aid provided.

Zelensky presented the medal to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell before a lunch with a group of Democratic and Republican senators. He was scheduled to meet later with Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson.

Biden’s uneven performance against Trump in the June 27 debate and his low public support have raised new doubts about his mental fitness, with a handful of congressional Democrats calling on Biden to resign.

Reuters reported last month that two Trump advisers had presented the Republican candidate with a plan to end Russia’s war in Ukraine – if he wins the November 5 election – that would see Kiev receive more American weapons only if it joins peace talks.

In a speech Tuesday, Zelensky urged American political leaders not to wait for the U.S. election results before taking decisive action to help Ukraine, and called for easing restrictions on the use of American weapons.

JOHNSON CHANGED COURSE

In Congress, dozens of Trump’s closest allies have repeatedly voted against supporting Zelensky’s government, though Democrats and more cooperative Republicans worked together to approve $175 billion in aid for Ukraine, which Washington approved after Russia invaded in February 2022.

Most recently, Johnson, a close Trump ally, reversed course in April — months after Biden asked for the money — and allowed the House of Representatives to vote on and pass $61 billion in aid for Ukraine.

During Zelensky’s last visit to Congress in December, Johnson said he would not support Biden’s request for additional funding.

The House passed the supplemental spending package by a vote of 311 to 112, with the “no” votes coming from conservative Republicans who are closely aligned with Trump. The vote stoked fears that Trump’s party would never approve more money for Ukraine if it takes control of the House, Senate and White House in November.

But Johnson, in his first major national security speech this week, said Russia poses a threat that extends beyond Ukraine and that American voters expressed support for aid as he toured the country.

“People understand that (Russian President Vladimir Putin) will not stop if he takes Kiev. I think he is a ruthless dictator,” Johnson said.