President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, trying to shore up US support for Ukraine on a whirlwind visit to Washington, has delivered an upbeat message on the war's progress while facing new questions about the flow of American dollars that for 19 months has helped keep his troops in the fight against Russian forces.
The Ukrainian leader received a far quieter reception on Thursday than the hero's welcome he got last year, but also won generally favourable comments on the aid he says he needs to stave off defeat.
Zelenskyy, in long-sleeve olive drab, came to the Capitol with a firm message in private talks with Republican and Democratic leaders. The Ukrainians have a solid war plan, and "they are winning," lawmakers quoted him as assuring them, at a time that the world is watching Western support for Kiev.
Zelenskyy also spoke with military leaders at the Pentagon and met with President Joe Biden at the White House.
Biden told Zelenskyy at the White House that he would "ensure the world stands with you" against Russia. Zelenskyy told Biden in the Oval Office that the Ukrainian people "greatly appreciate the assistance provided by the United States to combat Russian terror."
Earlier, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin greeted Zelenskyy at the Pentagon without the usual ceremonial band or fanfare that is typical of a high-level visit.
Some Republicans oppose sending more money to Ukraine
At Congress, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who faces opposition among far-right Republicans aligned with former president Donald Trump on support for Ukraine, notably chose not to join House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries in greeting the Ukrainian president when he arrived at the Capitol.
McCarthy also confirmed that he declined Zelenskyy's request for a joint session of Congress, as happened during the Ukrainian president's dramatic visit to Washington last winter, saying there wasn't time for that on short notice.
But McCarthy praised the answers that Ukrainians delivered to lawmakers on Thursday. "It was direct, I thought it was honest, they were answering the questions," McCarthy said.
Republican House lawmakers described questioning Zelenskyy on the way forward for Ukraine's counteroffensive, as the fight to roll back invading Russian forces moves closer to the two-year mark without major breakthroughs in Russia's heavily mined lines.
Zelenskyy "conceded that it's tough, very tough to overcome entrenched defences," Independent Senator Angus King said. "They believe they will make slow but steady progress, but it's not going to be quick."
It is Zelenskyy's second visit to Washington since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and comes as Biden's request to Congress for an additional $24 billion for Ukraine’s military and humanitarian needs hangs in the balance.
Biden has called on world leaders to stand strong with Ukraine, even as he faces domestic political divisions at home.
A hard-right flank of Republicans, led by Trump, Biden's chief rival in the 2024 race for the White House, is increasingly opposed to sending more money overseas. Zelenskyy faces challenges in Europe as well as cracks emerging in what had been a largely united Western alliance behind Ukraine.
Support for Ukraine is 'an investment'
Biden administration officials were set to announce another $325 million on Thursday in what’s known as presidential drawdown assistance for Ukraine.
The package will include dual-purpose improved conventional munitions, or cluster munitions, and ammunition for HIMARS rocket artillery systems, two US officials said on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the weapons package prior to its announcement.
Since the start of the war, most members of Congress supported approving four rounds of aid to Ukraine, totaling about $113 billion, viewing defence of the country and its democracy as an imperative, especially when it comes to containing Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Zelenskyy's meeting with senators on Thursday took place behind closed doors in the Old Senate Chamber, a historic and intimate place of importance at the US Capitol, signifying the respect the Senate is showing the foreign leader.
He received a warm welcome from both parties on his stop in the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer flanked him as he walked in. A few lawmakers of both parties wore clothes with blue and yellow, the colours of the Ukrainian flag.
Schumer told reporters afterward one sentence summed up the meeting: "Mr. Zelenskyy said if we don’t get the aid, we will lose the war."
Senate Republican leader McConnell, who is trying to keep his party in line behind support for Ukraine, said afterward he was proud to welcome Zelenskyy to the Capitol. "Americans' support for Ukraine is not a charity," he said. "It's an investment in our own self-interest."