Mitch McConnell leads Senate GOP delegation on surprise visit to Ukraine and meets with President Zelenskyy

Mitch McConnell leads Senate GOP delegation on surprise visit to Ukraine and meets with President Zelenskyy

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with a US Senate delegation led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in Kyiv on Saturday and called the visit “a strong signal of bipartisan support for Ukraine by the US Congress and the American people,” his presidential office said.

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

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

“Russia is committing genocide against the Ukrainian people,” Zelenskyy said in a press release announcing the senators’ visit. “Europe hasn’t seen crimes like this since World War II.”

Noting “the special role of the United States” in tightening sanctions against Russia, he said he looks forward to more sanctions against Russia’s banking sector. “In addition, we believe that Russia should be officially recognized as a state sponsor of terrorism,” said Zelenskyy.

Republican senator officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment early Saturday.

Congress is poised to authorize nearly $40 billion in additional military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, surpassing President Biden’s $33 billion request and extending a new lifeline to Kyiv while Moscow ramps up its invasion in the south and east of the country. Passing the measure, which was approved by the House of Representatives earlier this week, would bring the total amount of Ukrainian aid provided by Congress since the invasion began on Feb. 24 to more than $53 billion.

The list of anti-Ukrainian republican lawmakers is growing rapidly

The Senate is likely to follow the House in approving the package, but that effort was pushed back to next week after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) objected to an accelerated vote on aid to Ukraine on Thursday and a bipartisan push had dampened the continuation of assistance to Kyiv. Paul, facing setbacks but standing by his decision, was able to single-handedly block progress on the package, as the Senate needs unanimous approval to quickly bring such a bill to a final vote. Now the Chamber must jump through all the usual procedural hoops.

Rand Paul, lone Senate refuser, postpones vote on aid to Ukraine until next week

Zelenskyy expressed hope that the Senate would quickly approve the nearly $40 billion package while Ukrainian officials negotiate with Russia to evacuate 60 “seriously wounded” people and medics from the besieged Azovstal Steelworks in Mariupol. Zelenskyy described the negotiations late Friday as “very difficult,” adding, “We don’t stop trying to save all our people from Mariupol and Azovstal.”

Despite fighting in Mariupol, Ukrainian forces have been gaining ground in the Kharkiv region, pushing Russian troops north to the border and retaking towns and villages in the region, a senior US defense official told reporters on Friday. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, assessed that Ukraine “appeared to have won the battle of Kharkiv.” It added that the Kremlin “probably decided to withdraw completely” from its positions around the city amid lively Ukrainian counterattacks and limited Russian reinforcements.

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

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met Zelenskyy on April 24 for what was then the highest-ranking visit by an American delegation since the beginning of the war. On April 30, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led a Democratic congressional delegation to Kyiv for talks with Zelenskyy. Pelosi vowed to Ukraine’s president that the United States had an obligation “to be there for you until the fight is over.”

First Lady Jill Biden crossed the border into Ukraine last weekend, traveling to an active war zone in a rare move for the wife of an incumbent 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 Russian invasion began.

“I was going to come on Mother’s Day,” Biden said before the start of a behind-closed-doors meeting between the two first ladies. “I felt it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war must stop, and this war was brutal, 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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