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Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is meeting Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa today as he scrambles to rally more international support for his troops fighting Russia.
Mr Zelensky landed in the capital late on Thursday, and will today have talks with Mr Trudeau before addressing the Canadian parliament.
The Ukrainian leader will hope for a positive outcome after a difficult visit to Washington, where US president Joe Biden offered warm words of support and weapons – but rejected a request for longer range ATACMS missiles.
Mr Zelensky also faced skeptical Republicans who want to cut off aid to his country amid concerns over the slow progress of Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
Some Republicans are threatening to block Mr Biden’s funding requests, with one senator openly declaring that Congress ‘should not be sending another blank check to Zelensky’.
It came just one day after Poland’s prime minister announced he would no longer arm Ukraine amid a row over grain exports – in a move sure to delight Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, greets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as his wife Olena Zelenska looks on as they arrive at Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport in Ottawa, Ontario, on Thursday, September 21
US president Joe Biden and First Lady Jill welcome Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and First Lady Olena Zelenska at the South Portico of the White House
Ukrainian servicemen of the 3rd Assault Brigade fire a 122mm mortar towards Russian positions at the front line, near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, July 2, 2023
Canada has provided Ukraine with almost $9billion in military and other aid since the Russian invasion began in February 2022, and is home to the world’s second largest Ukrainian diaspora after Russia.
Ottawa’s $8.9billion in aid to Kyiv has included more than $1.8billion in military aid, including Leopard 2 tanks, air defence and artillery systems, anti-tank weapons, drones and other equipment.
It has also trained more than 36,000 Ukrainian soldiers.
Yesterday Mr Zelensky confronted the issue of 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,’ Mr Biden told him after their top teams met at the White House.
Wearing his trademark olive green military-style shirt, Mr Zelensky said Ukraine ‘has exactly what our soldiers need’ after Mr Biden announced a new package of US military aid, including sophisticated air defence weapons.
But behind the optics – firm handshakes across a grand cabinet table and shows of solidarity in the Oval Office – was the reality that Mr 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 among Republicans.
Hardline Republicans are threatening to block Mr Biden’s request for a fresh $24billion aid package for Ukraine, and it has now become caught up in a bitter spending battle that could spark a US government shutdown.
Mr Biden said alongside Mr 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 defence capability, crucial at a time when the country faces repeated Russian missile and drone attacks.
But in a blow to Mr Zelensky, the US president rejected – for now – a request for longer-range ATACMS missiles that can strike up to 190 miles away, the White House said.
President Joe Biden shakes hands with Volodymyr Zelensky after a meeting in the East Room of the White House September 21, 2023 in Washington, DC
The key part of Mr 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 $100billion in aid to date, including $43billion in weaponry.
On Capitol Hill, Mr Zelensky reeived 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.
Some Republicans say the money could be better spent on US border security, while there are also concerns about the pace of Kyiv’s counteroffensive and that corruption in Ukraine means the money will be squandered.
The doubts are being fuelled by messaging from former president and likely 2024 candidate Donald Trump, who has opposed more funding and frequently expressed admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
It’s a trend that has also reached parts of the generally more pro-Ukraine Republicans in the Senate, where Senator Roger Marshall said Congress should not be ‘sending another blank check to Zelensky’.
Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, a major supporter of Mr Biden’s pro-Ukraine policies, said Mr Zelensky had told him ‘if we don’t get the aid, we will lose the war.’
Kyiv is meanwhile trying to shore up international support, with Mr Zelensky telling the UN General Assembly in New York this week that the world must stand firm with Ukrainians against Russia’s ‘genocide’.
Mr Zelensky’s tour of the US and Canada this week comes days after Warsaw ended its provision of military equipment to Kyiv.
Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki addresses a press conference in Warsaw, Poland, July 5, 2023
Russian president Vladimir Putin smiles during the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum, on September 12, 2023, in Vladivostok, Russia
‘We are no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine, because we are now arming Poland with more modern weapons,’ Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.
‘We were the first to do a lot for Ukraine and that’s why we expect them to understand our interests.
‘Of course we respect all of their problems, but for us, the interests of our farmers are the most important thing.’
Poland has been one of Ukraine’s staunchest supporters after Russia invaded in February 2022 and has been one of Kyiv’s main weapons suppliers.
It also hosts some one million Ukrainian refugees, who have benefited from various kinds of state aid.
But tensions between Warsaw and Kyiv, sparked by Poland’s ban on Ukrainian grain imports to protect the interests of its farmers, have intensified in recent days.
Poland’s decision to end military aid to Ukraine came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared some countries are ‘only pretending’ to support Kyiv in the fight against Moscow.
In response, Polish president Andrzej Duda on Thursday claimed that the prime minister’s comments on no longer arming Ukraine had been taken the wrong way.
Mr Duda argued that ‘the prime minister’s words were interpreted in the worst way possible.
‘In my opinion, the prime minister meant that we won’t be transferring to Ukraine the new weaponry that we’re currently buying as we modernise the Polish army,’ Duda told TVN24 television.