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Volodymyr Zelensky will discover a city that is even more self-obsessed than usual when he arrives in Washington, his first time outside Ukraine since the Russian invasion last winter. A congressional committee has suggested that a previous president of the United States be punished for attempting to thwart the constitutional transfer of power. The Republicans are poised to gain control of the House with a slim majority and a passel of empowered kooks.
President Zelensky will arrive in Washington, D.C., for a visit to the White House and a joint address to Congress after leaving a war zone where he and his compatriots are literally fighting for their lives and for the survival of their country against a Russian dictator who wants to erase Ukraine as an independent state from the map. The American drama is significant, and the stakes for democracy are high.
Even though Washington is already on Christmas break, Zelensky’s visit makes sense given the time. In an effort to weaken Ukraine’s resolve to fight, the Russians have recently shelled Ukrainian cities once more. Other than that, the ground conflict is in a state resembling a strategic stop as Russian President Vladimir Putin gives his army time to reorganize before what would probably be a new round of offensives. Putin is currently in Belarus, the obvious starting point for another attempt to seize control of Kyiv, where he is making a show of belly-rubbing his favourite foreign sheepdog, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
A Patriot air-defense battery will soon be sent to Ukraine by the Biden administration in the United States, greatly enhancing Ukraine’s capacity to repel Russian air and missile attacks. In order to take this important step, collaboration between the US, NATO, and Ukraine will need to be strengthened. Ukrainians will need to be trained to operate the Patriot system. Meanwhile, Congress is ready to decide whether to provide billions more in relief. The people of Ukraine need this money to survive a brutal winter of violence from the guy who has vowed never to end this war until Ukraine is under his control, as well as to continue the battle.
Zelensky’s decision to travel to Washington appears to have been motivated by his concern over the impending GOP takeover of the House. He ought to be. Numerous Republicans who will soon make up the majority and chair committees have resorted to reflexive mulishness towards Ukraine, rejecting everything President Joe Biden wishes out of pure partisanship. People who claimed to care little about what was happening in Ukraine a year ago have promised to exercise strict “oversight” of U.S. aid to Ukraine, as though the largest war in Europe since World War II is an overbudget consulting contract in suburban Virginia. This has been stoked by the trolls and contrarians in the conservative press.
Zelensky’s speech to Congress and other planned remarks during this visit are still unknown. If everything goes according to plan, a handshake with Biden, who has done a masterful job of keeping the Western alliance together in the face of Putin’s threats, will give him a lift in the eyes of the world community. (A White House meeting would probably cause Moscow to erupt in wrath once more; the last missile attack was almost undoubtedly a reaction to the Patriot missiles’ discovery.) Zelensky is ready to transition from his position as a persecuted regional leader sending films from a bunker to assume his rightful and long-overdue position as a statesman more than equal to the terrified KGB agent who is attempting to assassinate him.
The real question is whether Zelensky’s opinions will matter to a Republican Party that has made the decision to torture Ronald Reagan’s spirit by siding with a neo-imperialistic Soviet nostalgia crank.
Naturally, the majority of Republicans in the ranks support helping Ukraine fight Russia. The activists and primary voters who wear I’d rather be a Russian than a democrat T-shirts now run the Trumpian GOP, though. Even though the Patriot and other forms of aid are already on the way to Ukraine, GOP base-pleasing may endanger the country even more by giving Putin the impression that America’s commitment to freedom is waning. In fact, as The New York Times revealed this past weekend, the Russian president’s decision to attack Ukraine was motivated in part by his perception of the West’s frailty and lack of focus.
Republicans playing to their base are unlikely to alter their opinions at this time. Zelensky will soon address the entire nation, and his presence in Washington will serve as a reminder that democracy and autocracy are engaged in a harsh, bloody human struggle, not some obscure foreign-policy muddle. At the very least, we can hope that his appearance before a divided Congress will encourage Americans to disregard the ludicrous objections of right-wing pundits and will strengthen the larger bipartisan coalition in the US committed to defending freedom in Europe and around the world.
There is still fighting in Ukraine. The Ukrainian president’s speech on Wednesday will serve as a symbol of both the global fight for democracy as well as the struggle of one nation against the Kremlin. Unfortunately, there are several fronts in the conflict, including Capitol Hill.
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