Ukraine's Zelensky in Canada to shore up support

Agence France-Presse
Ukraine's Zelensky in Canada to shore up support
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) talks to Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during an event with G7 leaders to announce a Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine during the NATO Summit in Vilnius on July 12, 2023.
AFP / Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

OTTAWA, Canada — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Friday, seeking to rally support for his country as it fights the Russian invasion.

Zelensky landed in the capital Ottawa late Thursday, following a visit to the United States where he won warm words of support and weapons from US President Joe Biden, but also confronted skeptical Republicans who want to cut off aid.

Canada has provided Ukraine with almost $9 billion in military and other aid since the Russian invasion began in February 2022.

"The Ukrainian people are the tip of the spear that is determining the future of the 21st century. Canada remains unwavering in our support to the people of Ukraine," Trudeau said in a statement ahead of Zelensky's arrival.

The Ukrainian president will meet Trudeau in Ottawa, where Zelensky will also address parliament before the pair head to Toronto for meetings with business leaders and members of the Ukrainian-Canadian community, the Canadian government said. 

Canada is home to the world's second-largest Ukrainian diaspora after Russia, with about 1.36 million people of Ukrainian origin living here, according to government data.

Canada's $8.9 billion in aid to Ukraine has included more than $1.8 billion in military aid, including Leopard 2 tanks, air defense and artillery systems, anti-tank weapons, drones and other equipment.

It has also trained more than 36,000 Ukrainian soldiers.

'We're with you' 

On Thursday, Zelensky confronted potentially fracturing political support in the United States for his country's demands for more arms to push back the Russian invasion.

"We're with you and we're staying with you," Biden told Zelensky after their top teams met at the White House.

Wearing his trademark olive green military-style shirt, Zelensky said Ukraine "has exactly what our soldiers need" after Biden announced a new package of US military aid, including sophisticated air defense weapons.

But behind the visuals -- firm handshakes across a grand cabinet table and shows of solidarity in the Oval Office -- lay the fact that Zelensky's second wartime trip to Washington was far tougher than the first.

He received a hero's welcome when he visited in December but this time, he spent his closed-door meetings in the US Congress desperately trying to overcome growing war fatigue from Republicans.

Hardline Republicans are threatening to block Democrat Biden's request for a fresh $24 billion aid package for Ukraine, and it has now become caught up in a bitter spending battle that could spark a US government shutdown.

'No alternative' 

Biden said alongside Zelensky that there was "no alternative" to backing the Ukraine funding, adding that he was "counting on the good judgment of the United States Congress."

The US president said the first US M1 Abrams tanks will arrive in Ukraine "next week," boosting Kyiv's forces as they battle Russian troops in a slow-moving counteroffensive.

The latest US package would also strengthen Ukraine's air defense capability, crucial at a time when the country faces repeated Russian missile and drone attacks.

But in a blow to Zelensky, Biden rejected -- for now -- a request for longer-range ATACMS missiles that can strike up to 300 kilometers (190 miles) away, the White House said.

The key part of Zelensky's visit was to a deeply divided Congress.

The hard-right faction dominating the Republican Party is increasingly adamant that the aid spigot should be turned off, with Congress having already approved $100 billion in aid to date, including $43 billion in weaponry.

On Capitol Hill, Zelensky got a notably discreet welcome from the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, who is having trouble keeping a lid on internal party squabbling over US spending in Ukraine. 

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