For the Russians, the Ukrainian president went to the U.S. “begging for money.” But elsewhere in the world, this visit was shaping up as one of the most significant episodes of a 10-month-old war with planetary implications.
Ten months into Russia’s war in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky once again took the world by storm. His momentous visit to Washington was his first trip abroad since Russia’s full scale invasion, and signals a landmark moment in a war with so much at stake beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Zelensky addressed a joint session of Congress late Wednesday, stressing the need for more weapons and adding that “against all odds, and doom and gloom scenarios, Ukraine didn’t fall. Ukraine is alive and kicking.”
Earlier, U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed the Ukrainian president at the White House, where he confirmed a new $1.85 billion U.S. aid package to Ukraine, including the much discussed Patriot missile defense system. “We understand in our bones that Ukraine’s fight is part of something much bigger,” Biden said.
As dawn broke in Moscow, the reaction from Russian leaders was swift — and dripping with sarcasm and vitriol.
State media taunted Zelensky, saying he was “prostrating himself” and “begging for money” from the Americans, adding he was nothing more than “an embarrassment.” One Russian political scientist, Pavel Danilov, in an interview with Channel Five, said the visit was “some kind of image opportunity for Ukrainian domestic consumers. He went to the American priest who confirmed that he was on our side, that everything was fine, let's carry on, lads, fight on and all that.”
Kremlin: Does not bode well for Ukraine
The official line from the Kremlin was no less scathing. Maria Zakhrova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, responded to Ukrainian representative to the UN, Sergei Kislytsya, who posted an American flag in Ukrainian colors to his twitter. Zakharova with her usual bitter irony wrote on her Telegram account: "What we have been talking about for many years, but what no one wanted to believe, has happened. Congratulations everyone!"Presidential spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, further stressed that the American Patriot missile systems would become a highly legitimate target for the Russian military. “All of this leads to an aggravation of the conflict, and does not bode well for Ukraine,” Peskov said. The U.S. is doing nothing but “prolonging the suffering” of the Ukrainian people.
Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung
Ukraine wants more
Meanwhile, in Kyiv, Ukrainian analysts were focused on concrete results from Zelensky’s visit. Military expert Kostyantyn Mashovets stressed that America’s donation of the Patriot system signaled a new stage in the war. "The Patriot anti-aircraft missile system is, of course, a hi-tech weapon, no matter who it is handed over to,” he said in an interview with Radio Liberty Ukraine.
“This shows a certain degree of trust from the U.S. in both the Armed Forces of Ukraine and in Ukraine as a state."
Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, in a post on Facebook said “this visit is not about symbolism, but about specific decisions that strengthen Ukraine's defense and help beat the invaders”.
Kuleba stressed the long journey it had been to acquire the Patriot missile system from the US, concluding that “Patriots in Ukraine are saved lives and civilian infrastructure. This is another strategic defeat for Russia… The history of the Patriots is another example of the impossible becoming possible if Ukraine is doing it.”
Other world capitals were quick to respond to Zelensky’s visit in what has become one of the most symbolic moments of the war.
Brazil's O Globo
Europe sees a ‘hero’
In Europe the tone varies. French daily Le Monde noted the choice of Zelensky’s first destination abroad. “He could have gone to Warsaw, Paris or London. But Washington was the destination that made the most sense regarding the big military support from the U.S.”
French newspaper Le Figaro commented on what this trip meant for Zelensky himself– a man utterly secure in both his governmental leadership and personal security: “The fact that the Ukrainian president is traveling abroad in the first place means he feels secure towards the Russians as well. He is not afraid of being overthrown, or that people will take advantage of his absence, unlike former Russia leader (Mikhail) Gorbachev. This move is a sign that things are “going relatively well.”
Details have emerged in recent hours about how the visit was arranged in secret over the past week, with Zelensky first traveling to Poland by train before flying to Washington on an American military aircraft, US officials said.
German daily Die Weltcompared Zelensky to Britain’s World War II leader Winston Churchill, noting how both leaders addressed the U.S. Congress in crucial moments of history, “Volodymyr Zelensky is also comparable to Churchill in that one would not have thought much of him before this war — and because he embodies a type…Both leaders knew how to address the American soul, with simple but direct statements: thanking the American people for their help but demanding more.”
Belgium’sLe Soir refers to Zelensky’s “hero” status, and how his visit may offer a boost to the aging Biden “to reinforce his virile and martial posture”.
U.S. Washington Post
What’s next in Washington
In the U.S., senior Republicans pushed Biden to provide additional aid to Ukraine. “Helping equip our friends in Eastern Europe to win this war is also a direct investment in reducing Putin’s future capabilities to menace America, threaten our allies and contest our core interests,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnelll said.
The Wall Street Journal praised Zelensky as “a brave and charismatic wartime leader, and his speech was eloquent in explaining that Ukraine is fighting for its independence as Americans once did.”
Still, behind the united exterior the Ukrainian president continues to push for weaponry that Biden is reluctant to provide. “Biden remains worried about not pushing too far, too fast, for fear of escalation,” Ivo Daalder, President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs told The Washington Post. “Zelensky wants to make clear that he needs this continued support that, frankly, only the United States can provide.”