With Zelensky by his side, Biden vows the U.S. 'is going to give Ukraine what it needs' to repel Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said "I wish you peace," when asked by Yahoo News what his message to America was.

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WASHINGTON — Standing side by side with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House, President Biden vowed on Wednesday to continue the military and humanitarian support that has kept Russia from overrunning its much smaller neighbor.

“We're going to give Ukraine what it needs,” Biden said at one point, after a Ukrainian reporter pressed him on the Pentagon’s reluctance to provide Ukrainian forces with long-range missile systems.

Referencing the Ukrainian president’s Jewish background, Biden offered a reminder that Hanukkah, now in its fourth night, was a holiday that celebrated hope and faith.

“You don’t need to worry,” he said to Zelensky, who stood next to the American president in green military attire. “We are staying with Ukraine as long as Ukraine is there.”

Zelensky’s surprise visit to Washington comes as winter is descending on a Europe that has been deprived of Russian gas and oil, making for potentially harrowing conditions that could lead to ever louder calls for peace from shivering citizens and impatient elected officials.

President Biden and Volodymyr Zelensky
President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hold a press conference in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday night. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Yet in response to a question from Yahoo News, Biden said that the international coalition remained firmly behind Ukraine. “I’m not at all worried about holding the alliance together,” he said, referencing the European Union and NATO in particular, as the members of those two institutions constitute the majority of Ukraine’s supporters.

“We all know what’s at stake here,” Biden added. Until today’s visit to Washington, the young Ukrainian president had not traveled outside his country since the war began in February.

In November, Republicans retook control of the House of Representatives, likely making it more difficult to approve future rounds of aid to Ukraine.

“We have the same values,” Zelensky said in response to a Yahoo News question about his message to the American people. “I wish you peace,” he said — a peace that “these terrorists from Russia” had made an impossibility for millions of Ukrainians.

Volodymyr Zelensky
Zelensky at the White House. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“I wish you to see your children alive and adults,” Zelensky said, speaking in English. “And I wish you to see your children when they will go to universities — and to see their children.”

It was an emotional appeal from the former actor and comedian, who leavened the press conference with humor, at times making light of Ukraine’s frequent demands on the United States, only to remind in the very next moment that those demands would continue. Although the latest round of military aid, amounting to $1.8 billion, includes a Patriot missile battery, Ukrainians are also seeking long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems, known as ATACMS, that could devastate Russian forces.

On several occasions, Biden pointed to the billions of dollars the U.S. has devoted to Ukraine’s fight for independence. It was a fight that, on Wednesday, marked its 300th day. Even as winter approaches, reports indicate that Russia could be preparing for a major offensive.

The White House has cast the battle between Ukraine and Russia as one between democracy and autocracy. “We’re going to do everything in our power to see that he succeeds,” Biden said of Zelensky. He noted that the spending deal negotiated by lawmakers on Capitol Hill included another $45 billion in aid to Ukraine.

Joe Biden
Biden listens during the joint press conference with Zelensky. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Just how many more assistance Kyiv can expect as the GOP prepares to assume control of the House remains a significant question — one whose answer Zelensky hoped to influence with a visit to Capitol Hill later on Wednesday, where he was preparing to meet with leaders of both parties and then deliver a joint address to both chambers of Congress.

Although calls for peace talks have grown somewhat louder from both the conservative right and the progressive left, Zelensky made clear that a just peace would include “no compromise on territory” illegally annexed by Russia or taken by military force.

Time and again he used the pro-democracy rhetoric Biden has invoked when discussing not only international but domestic affairs. “We really fight for our common victory against this tyranny,” Zelensky said. “And we will win.”