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Zelenskyy arrives in Washington for NATO summit with support for Ukraine’s war effort top of the agenda

Jul 9, 2024, 2:46 PM | Updated: Jul 12, 2024, 12:34 pm

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a press conference after a bilateral meeting on the...

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a press conference after a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G7 summit, in Fasano, Italy, June 13. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters via CNN Newsource)

(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters via CNN Newsource)

(CNN) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived in Washington, DC, as the high-stakes NATO summit prepared to kick off – and providing long-term support for Ukraine in the war against Russia is at the top of the agenda.

The Ukrainian leader will seek to shore up and boost allied support for his country, meet with President Joe Biden, and deliver a major speech on the sidelines of the summit. The US has promised “significant” announcements on Ukraine during the three-day global gathering that begins Tuesday.

Kyiv will fight for “decisive actions” from the United States and Europe at the summit, Zelenskyy said Tuesday in his first remarks since arriving in the US capital.

“We are fighting for the needed decisive actions from America and Europe – something that will strengthen our soldiers,” Zelenskyy said. “We are doing and will always do everything to make the Russian terror lose. And it is not only our country that needs it – everyone needs it, literally every partner, all nations.

Zelenskyy said Ukraine will fight for more air defense systems, F-16 jets and additional security guarantees, “including weapons and finances, political support.”

NATO members have made clear that Ukraine will be the main focus of the summit.

“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 Donald Trump win November’s presidential election are also top of mind for many attendees who were not reassured by Biden’s disastrous CNN debate performance.

Zelenskyy 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.

Ukrainian 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.”

“Russian terrorists must be held accountable for this. Mere concern does not stop terror. Condolences are not a weapon. We need to shoot down Russian missiles. Russian combat aircraft must be destroyed where they are based. Strong steps must be taken to eliminate any security deficit,” Zelenskyy posted on X on Monday. “The world has the necessary strength to do this. Our partners are capable of making it happen. Decisions are needed as soon as possible.”

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.

“We want the lifting of any sort of limitations on the weapons Ukraine is receiving,” Stefanchuk said at an event in Washington on Monday. We want “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. A top official from the National Security Council on Monday teased a forthcoming “air defense announcement and “an announcement on F-16s as well.”

“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.”

Moreover, Ukraine wants clear progress towards membership in NATO.

The matter caused a diplomatic spat last year ahead of the summit in Vilnius, with Zelenskyy 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.

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 story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Maria Kostenko and Radina Gigova contributed to this report.

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Zelenskyy arrives in Washington for NATO summit with support for Ukraine’s war effort top of the agenda