Source: CNN

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday urged international leaders to promptly aid his war-torn country and “not to wait for November, or any other month.”

Zelensky said that “everyone is waiting for November,” including Russian President Vladimir Putin, as the 2024 US presidential election and the specter of a second Donald Trump presidency remains top of mind for international leaders gathered in Washington, DC, for a high-stakes NATO summit.

“It’s time to step out of the shadows, to make strong decisions work, to act and not to wait for November or any other month. To this end, we must be strong and uncompromising altogether,” Zelensky said. “And first of all, America, and first of all, the leaders of America, and the president of the United States as a leader of the free world, to be uncompromising in defending democracy. Uncompromising against Putin and his country. Uncompromising to every possible terror.”

Zelensky’s remarks at the Ronald Reagan Institute in Washington come on the sidelines of the summit, which has placed providing long-term support for Ukraine in the war against Russia at the top of the agenda. In the coming days, the Ukrainian leader will seek to shore up and boost allied support for his country and meet with President Joe Biden.

Zelensky urged America to provide more “answers” to Ukraine and other allies bordering Russia, saying, “We have proven more than once that the more we have, the harder it is for Putin to make war. He still thinks that war might pay. He still thinks that humiliating America might pay.”

Ukraine, he said, “can significantly limit Russian actions in south Ukraine and push the occupiers out of there if the American leadership assists us with the necessary deep strike capabilities against Russian military and logistics in our Ukrainian Crimea.”

The US has promised “significant” announcements on Ukraine during the three-day global gathering, which Biden kicked off earlier in the evening with remarks announcing plans to supply new air defenses to the country.

Ahead of the summit, NATO members made clear that Ukraine would be the main focus. “The priority one, two, and three is Ukraine,” a European diplomat said.

However, there are looming questions whether the shows of support will be enough as the war drags on with little sign of a quick diplomatic or military victory for Kyiv. Concerns about the future of NATO should Trump win November’s presidential election are weighing on many attendees who were not reassured by Biden’s disastrous debate performance late last month.

“I hope that if people of America vote for President Trump, I hope his policy with Ukraine will not change,” Zelensky said during an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier Tuesday night, adding that he doesn’t know the former president “very well” but that the two had “good meetings” during the Trump administration.

Visit follows deadly Russian attacks

Zelensky touched down in the US capital on Monday evening in the shadow of deadly Russian attacks on cities throughout Ukraine earlier that day. The barrage of missiles hit buildings across the country, including Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital, and killed more than three dozen people.

In reference Russian officials’ claims that the Kremlin was not behind the attack, Zelensky said in his remarks, “Russia always knows where its missiles hit. Always.”

On Tuesday evening, the US and some of its NATO allies announced they will give Ukraine more Patriot batteries and additional systems to strengthen Kyiv’s air defenses against ongoing Russian aerial barrages.

The US, Germany and Romania will each provide a Patriot battery of their own, while the Netherlands will work with other countries to enable an additional Patriot battery, according to a joint statement. Meanwhile, Italy would also provide a SAMP-T long-range air defense system.

“This is yet another significant step following the US decision to prioritize Ukraine in air defense missile deliveries,” Zelensky wrote on X following the announcement. “I am grateful to President Biden for his leadership and to all partner countries for their commitment to providing us with air defense capabilities as quickly as possible.

“Russia’s air terror against Ukrainians, including yesterday’s brutal strike on the children’s hospital, must be met with unity and strength, with resolute and bold decisions. And that is precisely what such decisions ensure,” he wrote.

Officials said the timing of Moscow’s assault – a day before the start of the summit – was calculated. It was “a hello from Putin to all the NATO countries … making fun of us trying to follow red lines,” as Ruslan Stefanchuk, the chair of Ukraine’s parliament, said.

They also said the attack underscored the need for continued military support for Ukraine – and the ability to use those weapons to strike targets deep inside Russian territory.

“This attack, this attack on Ukraine’s future – because children are our future – shall not remain unresponded,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in remarks alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday. “I am looking forward to our discussion on how we can further strengthen Ukraine’s defense capabilities.”

“We want the lifting of any sort of limitations on the weapons Ukraine is receiving,” Stefanchuk said at an event in Washington on Monday.

The Biden administration recently shifted its policy to allow US weapons to be used in strikes into Russian territory where Russian forces are engaging in cross-border attacks into Ukraine. However, Ukrainian officials want to see that policy expanded further to allow strikes against Russian military targets anywhere in Russian territory.

Stefanchuk on Monday called for “a stable and forecastable supply of these weapons,” ammunition and to be able to “effectively counter the threats from the skies,” meaning F-16 fighter jets.

“We don’t want to wait for another sanctions package like an iPhone package,” he said, noting they just need one kind of sanctions: ones that “will make Russia feel the economic pain for this war.”

In remarks when he arrived in the US capital, Zelensky said Kyiv will fight for “decisive actions” from the United States and Europe at the summit

Ukraine seeks NATO membership

Ukraine also wants clear progress toward membership in NATO.

The matter caused a diplomatic spat last year ahead of the summit in Vilnius, with Zelensky fuming that it was “unprecedented and absurd when time frame is not set neither for the invitation nor for Ukraine’s membership” to NATO.

This year, officials said there has been far greater communication with the Ukrainians in the lead up to the summit. The European diplomat said there have been “deep and frank conversations” with Ukrainian officials. Presidential adviser Andriy Yermak was in Washington last week in part to work on commitments ahead of the summit.

As CNN reported Monday, Ukraine’s path to NATO was described as “irreversible” in a draft text of the alliance’s joint communique, according to three sources familiar.

Still, some say that there must be a stronger commitment to Ukraine. A senior European diplomat quipped that “this irreversibility is very much reversible.”

A senior Biden administration official said Friday that what they “described in terms of the bridge to membership and the deliverables that NATO will be unveiling for Ukraine is quite substantial.”

“We’re not talking about some sort of plan for how they’re going to get from here to there. We’re talking about standing up an entire command at Wiesbaden and we’ll look at how we do these various pieces that I mentioned earlier – training, coordination, equipping, coordination, logistics, force development. This is a very serious effort to get Ukraine in a position, as I said earlier, where it will be ready to assume its roles and responsibilities within the alliance on day one,” the official said.

“I’ll let the Ukrainians speak for themselves, but I think they understand the value of what NATO will be doing for that,” they said.

This headline and story have been updated with additional reporting.

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