this is how Zelensky was received in the US Congress

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the US Congress after a meeting with US President Joe Biden. His main goal: to keep the politicians on his side, or in the case of skeptics, get them.

Thomas Rubb

Like a pop star, Volodymyr Zelensky struggles to stand out from his audience on Wednesday night. The applause continues for several minutes. “Thank you,” the Ukrainian president repeated to hundreds of clapping members of the US Congress. He can’t get them quiet. Zelensky smiles timidly. Grins. Finally swings. “This is too much for me.” And his gaze turns serious again.

Zelensky’s first foreign visit since his country’s war began ten months ago ends Wednesday at the Capitol. In Washington DC he makes a fervent plea for further help in his struggle. “Your support is crucial,” he tells the representatives. “Not charity, but an investment in the security of global democracy.”

His goal is to keep American politics on his side. After all, that is where decisions are made about the delivery of billions in equipment. Zelensky thanks for the weapons, but also has a caveat. ‘It is enough? Fair? No.’ He argues for more money support and additional sanctions for Russia. Zelensky remarkably often emphasizes that he speaks to both sides.

Aversion to the right

The US Congress is loud, but not undivided, on Wednesday. Some representatives wear Ukrainian yellow and blue, but a number of Republicans demonstratively do not clap along with the rest. Others express their disgust in their absence.

The far right Republican wing cast doubts on aid to Ukraine. Zelensky hopes to change that. On January 3, the balance of power in the House of Representatives shifts as the Republicans take the lead there. Without right-wing votes, Biden will struggle to push additional support for Ukraine through Congress.

That’s why Zelensky is here now. Political concerns in the US are literally of vital importance to him and his country.

Influential right-wing politicians such as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert are calling for the end of all support. Taylor Greene boycotts the speech, Boebert looks at her phone demonstratively. “More Americans are dying ‘of drug overdoses’ than Ukrainians are at the hands of the Russians,” Congressman Mike Garcia said earlier that day. “Imagine a country where the president protects his own people.”

Joe Biden will not be there on Wednesday evening. The president has already spent a good part of the day with Zelensky. The two met in the afternoon in front of the entrance to the White House and walked in arm in arm: the war president and the president who helps him fight that war.

Victory march

Zelensky’s visit to the US turned out to be a triumph. Biden pledged a new weapons package worth $1.85 million including, for the first time, the advanced Patriot anti-aircraft system much desired by the Ukrainians. The US will support the country “for as long as it takes,” Biden said.

Before Congress, Zelensky expresses his gratitude for that support. But he also warns that the Americans should not wait for Russian backing down. “That would be naive.” According to him, the US must now press ahead and let Ukraine win the war for good. Next year will be “a turning point,” says Zelensky, “because of Ukrainian courage and American determination.”

Finally, he unfolds a giant Ukrainian flag written by soldiers on the frontline, where Zelensky was still present on Tuesday. Today he is not dressed in a suit, but in his usual military green outfit.

Democrat Nancy Pelosi gets a kiss from the president on her cheek: she visited him in besieged Kiev. This is one of her last moments as Speaker of the House of Representatives. “Merry Christmas,” concludes Zelensky, “and a happy, triumphant New Year.” The applause swells again.

Politicians hold up a Ukrainian flag in Congress.  Image Getty Images via AFP

Politicians hold up a Ukrainian flag in Congress.Image Getty Images via AFP

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