Mitch McConnell leads Senate GOP delegation on surprise visit to Ukraine, meets with President Zelensky

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with a U.S. Senate delegation led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in Kyiv on Saturday, the office said.

In Washington, however, a new round of funding for Ukraine’s battle against the Russian invasion is stalled in the Senate due to a GOP member’s objection.

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

“Russia is committing genocide against the Ukrainian people,” Zelensky said in a press release announcing the senators’ visit. “Europe has not seen such crimes since World War II.”

He noted “the particular role of the United States” in the escalation of sanctions against Russia and said he looked forward to further sanctions against the Russian banking sector. “Furthermore, we believe that Russia should be officially recognized as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Zelensky said.

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

Congress is set to approve nearly $40 billion in additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, exceeding President Biden’s $33 billion request and extending a new lifeline to Kyiv as Moscow continues its invasion in the south and east of the country. Passage of the measure, which was approved by the House earlier this week, would bring the total amount of Ukrainian aid provided by Congress since the invasion began on February 24 to more than $53 billion.

The list of anti-Ukrainian Republican lawmakers is growing rapidly

The Senate will likely follow the House in approving the package, but that effort was delayed until next week after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) opposed a fast-track vote on Ukraine aid on Thursday. , curbing a bipartisan push to maintain steady aid to Kyiv. Paul, who faced backlash but stood by his decision, was able to single-handedly block the package’s advancement because the Senate needs unanimous consent to quickly push such a bill to a final vote. Now the chamber has to jump through all the usual procedural hoops.

Senate lone resister Rand Paul delays Ukraine aid vote until next week

Zelensky expressed hope that the Senate would quickly approve the nearly $40 billion package at a time when Ukrainian officials are negotiating with Russia to evacuate 60 “seriously injured” people and doctors from the besieged Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol. Zelensky described the negotiations as “very difficult” on Friday evening, adding: “We keep trying to save all our people from Mariupol and Azovstal.”

Despite struggles in Mariupol, Ukrainian forces have gained ground in the Kharkiv region, pushing Russian troops north towards the border and reclaiming towns and villages in the region, a senior US official told reporters on Friday. defense. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Ukraine “appears to have won the battle for Kharkiv”. He added that the Kremlin had “probably decided to withdraw completely” from its positions around the city amid spirited 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 US and allied government officials, lawmakers and dignitaries to show support for the war-torn country and its embattled leader.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with Zelensky on April 24 in what was at the time the highest-level visit by an American delegation since the start of the war. On April 30, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led a Democratic congressional delegation to Kyiv for talks with Zelensky. Pelosi promised the Ukrainian president that the United States was committed to “being there for you until the fight is over.”

First lady Jill Biden crossed the border from Ukraine last weekend, heading to an active war zone in a rare move for the wife of a sitting 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 wanted to come on Mother’s Day,” Biden said before a closed-door meeting between the two first ladies began. “I thought it was important to show the people of Ukraine that this war has to end, and that this war has been brutal, and that the people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine.”

Amy Cheng and Eugene Scott contributed to this report.

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