Zelensky to appeal to US senators ahead of vote on Ukraine aid

Zelensky to appeal to US senators ahead of vote on Ukraine aid

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's virtual address comes with several top Ukrainian officials visiting Washington in person
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's virtual address comes with several top Ukrainian officials visiting Washington in person

WASHINGTON - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was set to appeal directly to US senators for support Tuesday ahead of a showdown over funding the war with Russia -- with Washington fast running out of the cash approved so far to help its besieged ally.

Zelensky will appear via videolink during a classified briefing on the conflict, a day before the Senate is scheduled to take the first procedural vote on an emergency aid package that includes more than $60 billion for Kyiv.

The Ukrainian leader's address comes after the White House warned Monday that aid will be exhausted by the end of the year, and that Russia's President Vladimir Putin could win the war if Congress fails to resolve a row over domestic policy that has deadlocked the funding.

"We can't ever put a price on defending democracy in its hour of need, because if Ukraine falls, Putin will keep on going," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said as he announced Zelensky's address in the Senate late Monday.

"Autocrats around the world will be emboldened. Democracy, this grand and noble experiment, will enter an era of decline."

Underlining the stakes for Washington, Kyiv and beyond, Zelensky's chief of staff and defense minister were due to make the rounds in the US capital in person, alongside the speaker of Ukraine's parliament, as part of a coordinated lobbying effort.

Several top administration officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines were due to take part in the closed-door briefing.

Congress is more divided over backing for Ukraine than it has been at any time during the nearly two-year conflict.

Senate Republicans are conditioning their support for the funding on President Joe Biden's Democrats accepting measures to address the migrant crisis at the southern border -- reforms they have already rejected as "extreme."

- 'Zero chance' -

In the latest setback, the Democrats walked out of negotiations on changes to the asylum system and border security Friday after concluding that Republicans were refusing to compromise.

Schumer has teed up a vote Wednesday on clearing the first procedural hurdle for addressing Biden's $106 billion aid request for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

But it needs 60 votes to get through the 100-member Senate, and the 49-strong Republican minority looks likely to sink the package as it leaves out their immigration reforms.

Texas Republican John Cornyn said in a speech on the Senate floor the proposal had "zero chance of becoming law."

"If Senator Schumer, as the majority leader, puts a bill on the floor that fails to address the crisis at the border with real, substantive policy reforms, we will not proceed to that bill," he vowed.

"Our security cannot come second to that of other countries around the world, our allies, even those like Ukraine and Israel."

US officials worry that failure would embolden wavering European governments to cut back on Ukraine aid and send a message to Putin that fissures were appearing in the coalition opposing the invasion.

Yet even if the two sides can hammer out a deal in the Senate, it will be a tough sell for Republicans in the House, who have voiced what their leader Mike Johnson called "legitimate concerns about the lack of a clear strategy in Ukraine."

White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said Monday that there is no fallback plan if funding is exhausted.

"Congress has to decide whether to continue to support the fight for freedom in Ukraine... or whether Congress will ignore the lessons we've learned from history and let Putin prevail," he told reporters at the White House.

"It is that simple. It is that stark a choice."

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