Mitch McConnell leads Senate GOP delegation on surprise Ukraine visit, meets with President Zelensky

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met a U.S. Senate delegation led by minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in Kiev on Saturday, calling the visit “a strong signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine from the U.S. Congress and the American people.” office said.

However, in Washington, a new round of funding for Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion is being held up in the Senate over a GOP member’s objection.

In a video Zelensky posted to his Instagram page, McConnell and fellow Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), John Barrasso (Wyo.) and John Cornyn (Tex.) greeted by Zelensky on a street in Kiev.

“Russia is committing genocide against the Ukrainian people,” Zelensky said in a press release announcing the senators’ visit. “Europe has not seen such crimes since World War II.”

He pointed to “the special role of the United States” in ramping up sanctions against Russia and said he looked forward to further sanctions against the Russian banking sector. “In addition, we believe that Russia should be officially recognized as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Zelensky said.

On Saturday night, McConnell called the visit “inspiring.”

“Ukraine is not asking anyone else to join their fight,” he said in a statement. “They only ask for the tools they need for self-defense.”

“America’s support for Ukraine’s self-defense is not mere philanthropy,” the statement continued. “Defending the principle of sovereignty, promoting stability in Europe and imposing charges on Russia’s naked aggression have a direct and vital impact on America’s national security and vital interests.”

Congress is about to approve nearly $40 billion in additional military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, surpassing President Biden’s $33 billion request and extending a new lifeline to Kiev as Moscow continues its invasion of Ukraine. the south and east of the country. Passing the measure, approved by the House earlier this week, would bring the total amount of Ukrainian aid provided by Congress since the February 24 invasion to more than $53 billion.

The list of anti-Ukraine Republican lawmakers is growing fast

The Senate is likely to follow the House in approving the package, but that effort has been postponed until next week after Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) objected on Thursday to an accelerated vote on aid to Ukraine, sparking a bipartisan push. to maintain continued aid to Kiev. Paul, who has faced adversity but has stuck to his decision, was able to single-handedly block progress on the package because the Senate needs unanimous approval to quickly pass such a bill. Now the room has to jump through all the usual procedural hoops.

Lonely Senate Rand Paul postpones vote on aid to Ukraine until next week

Zelensky expressed hope that the Senate would quickly approve the nearly $40 billion package at a time when Ukrainian officials are negotiating with Russia to evacuate 60 “seriously injured” people and medics from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Zelensky described the negotiations at the end of Friday as “very difficult” and added: “We will not stop trying to save all our people from Mariupol and Azovstal.”

Despite the fighting in Mariupol, Ukrainian forces have gained ground in the Kharkiv region, pushing Russian troops north towards the border and reclaiming towns and villages in the area, a senior US defense official told reporters on Friday. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, ruled that Ukraine “appears to have won the battle of Kharkov”. It added that the Kremlin has “probably decided to withdraw completely” from its positions around the city amid feisty Ukrainian counter-attacks and limited Russian reinforcements.

The unannounced trip of McConnell’s delegation to Kiev has continued in recent weeks a parade of visits to Ukraine by US and allied government officials, lawmakers and dignitaries to show support for the war-ravaged country and its embattled leader.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met Zelensky on April 24 during what was then the highest visit by a US delegation since the start of the war. On April 30, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led a Democratic congressional delegation to Kiev for talks with Zelensky. Pelosi swore to the Ukrainian president that the United States is committed to “be there for you until the fight is over”.

First lady Jill Biden crossed the border into Ukraine last weekend and traveled to an active war zone in a rare move for the husband of a sitting president. Biden entered the country from Slovakia on Mother’s Day and met Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, who had not appeared in public since the start of the Russian invasion.

“I wanted to come on Mother’s Day,” Biden said before the start of a closed-door meeting between the two first ladies. “I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war must stop, and that this war has been cruel, and that the people of the United States stand behind the people of Ukraine.”

Amy Cheng and Eugene Scott contributed to this report.

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