US President Joe Biden has promised his Ukrainian colleague Volodymyr Zelenskyj further support on his first known trip abroad since the beginning of the war. "President Zelenskyy, the United States stands behind the brave people of Ukraine," Biden said at a meeting between the two heads of state at the White House. "You will never be alone." Selenskyj thanked the US for the help "from the bottom of my heart". Even before the meeting, the United States had approved the delivery of the Patriot anti-aircraft system for counter-attacks against Russia. Meanwhile, the Kremlin warned of an intensification of the conflict - and announced a further upgrade of the Russian army: with more money, more soldiers and more modern weapon systems.
Russia had already criticized Zelenskyj's trip to the USA and the announced new arms deliveries before the meeting in the White House. "All this is undoubtedly leading to an aggravation of the conflict and in itself does not bode well for Ukraine," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the Russian news agency Interfax. He doesn't expect Zelenskyy to be more willing to negotiate with Moscow after his trip.
Zelenskyj landed on Wednesday at the Joint Base Andrews military airport near the US capital Washington with an American government plane. The trip is associated with a security risk for the Ukrainian President - which may have prompted the US government to take the unusual step. According to Polish television, Selenskyj's machine had flown in Rzeszów, Poland.
Selenskyj was greeted at the White House with a red carpet by Biden and his wife Jill. As usual, Biden wore a suit, while Zelensky wore an olive green army sweater and matching pants. "We will continue to strengthen Ukraine's ability to defend itself, especially air defense, and therefore we will provide Ukraine with Patriot missile batteries," Biden said a short time later in the Oval Office. Zelenskyi presented Biden with a Ukrainian soldier's medal as a token of his gratitude.
The US is Ukraine's main ally. They support the country in defending against Russia's attack with military equipment and money, among other things. On the occasion of Zelenskyy's visit, the United States announced another military aid package worth 1.85 billion US dollars (around 1.7 billion euros). This also includes the Patriot battery. The air defense system is likely to complicate Russia's missile and drone attacks on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. Total US military aid to Ukraine since the beginning of Biden's tenure is US$21.9 billion.
The former Soviet republic had asked for more air defense systems because of the Russian missile attacks on their cities and the infrastructure of the energy supply. The Patriot air defense system is likely to reshuffle the cards in the war. A US official said Ukrainian troops are being trained in a third country. He did not provide any further information. It would be obvious that Ukrainian soldiers - as is already the case with other weapon systems - are trained in Germany, for example at the Grafenwöhr military training area in Bavaria.
Parallel to Zelenskyj's flight to the United States, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at an expanded meeting of the Defense Ministry in Moscow. There he called for a faster pace of rearmament and modernization of the armed forces. As an example, the Kremlin chief cited the use of drones - a weakness of the Russian armed forces up to now. In addition, the new Sarmat ICBM, which can be equipped with nuclear warheads, will soon be operational. There are "no financial restrictions" on further upgrading of the army, Putin said.
Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu proposed increasing the force by around 350,000 soldiers to 1.5 million men. He also called for new units to be set up in north-west Russia on the border with potential new NATO states Sweden and Finland.
Russia had warned Washington about a Patriot delivery last week after reports of corresponding plans by the US government. Like other heavy weapons, they would become "lawful priority targets" for Russian forces, Moscow said. The US is already delivering Himars multiple rocket launchers and the Nasams air defense system to Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats in the US Congress then agreed on a draft budget that also includes military aid worth billions. The $1.7 trillion package includes $44.9 billion in support for Ukraine. Around $19 billion of that is earmarked to replenish US military stockpiles and stockpiles of ammunition following transfers to Ukraine, and to fund additional spending by US troops in Europe.
Since the beginning of the war on February 24, Zelenskyi had avoided traveling abroad. For appearances on the political world stage - for example at the G7 summit in Elmau, Bavaria - he always had himself connected digitally from Ukraine. It is now Zelenskyj's second visit to the White House since Biden took office. Biden last received him in the summer of 2021.
The US government had publicly warned early on of a Russian attack on Ukraine, citing intelligence information. Since invading Ukraine, the United States and its allies have imposed tough sanctions on Russia.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated since it was first published.