Mitch McConnell leads the Senate Republican delegation on a surprise visit to Ukraine and meets with President Zelensky

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with a US Senate delegation led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in kyiv on Saturday, calling the visit “a powerful signal of support.” bipartisan support to Ukraine by the US Congress and the American people.” the office said.

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

In a video posted by Zelensky on his Instagram page, McConnell and Republican Senators Susan Collins (Maine), John Barrasso (Wyoming) 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 pointed to “the special role of the United States” in increasing sanctions against Russia and said he expected more sanctions against Russia’s banking sector. “In addition, we believe that Russia should be officially recognized as a state sponsor of terrorism,” Zelensky said.

On Saturday night, McConnell called the visit “inspiring.”

“Ukraine is not asking anyone else to fight their fight,” he said in a statement. “They only ask for the tools they need for self-defense.”

“The United States’ support for Ukraine’s self-defense is not mere philanthropy,” the statement continues. “Defending the principle of sovereignty, promoting stability in Europe, and imposing costs on Russia’s open aggression have a direct and vital bearing on the national security and vital interests of the United States.”

Congress is poised to approve nearly $40 billion in additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, surpassing President Biden’s $33 billion request and extending a new lifeline to kyiv as Moscow presses ahead with its invasion of the south and east. East of the country. Passage of the measure, which passed 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 is likely to follow the House in approving the package, but that effort has been delayed until next week after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) objected Thursday to an expedited vote on aid for Ukraine. , dampening a bipartisan push to keep aid to kyiv steady. Paul, who faced backlash but stood by his decision, was able to single-handedly block the package from moving forward because the Senate requires unanimous consent to quickly move such a bill to a final vote. Now the camera must go through all the usual procedural hurdles.

Rand Paul, the only holdout from the Senate, delays the vote on aid to Ukraine until next week

Zelensky expressed hope that the nearly $40 billion package would be quickly approved by the Senate at a time when Ukrainian officials are negotiating with Russia to evacuate 60 “severely injured” people and doctors from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. Zelensky described the negotiations as “very difficult” on Friday night, adding: “We do not stop trying to save all our people from Mariupol and Azovstal.”

Despite the fighting in Mariupol, Ukrainian forces have gained ground in the Kharkiv region, pushing Russian troops north towards the border and retaking towns and villages in the area, a senior US defense official said on Friday. to journalists. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, assessed that Ukraine “appears to have won the Battle of Kharkiv.” He added that the Kremlin “has probably decided to fully withdraw” from its positions around the city amid vigorous Ukrainian counterattacks and limited Russian reinforcements.

The unannounced trip to kyiv by McConnell’s delegation followed a parade of visits to Ukraine in recent weeks by officials, lawmakers and dignitaries from the United States and allied governments to show support for the war-torn country and its embattled leader. .

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Zelensky on April 24 in what was at the time the highest-level visit by a US 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 is committed to “being there for you until the fight is over.”

First lady Jill Biden crossed the border into Ukraine last weekend, traveling to an active war zone in an unusual move for the wife of a sitting president. Biden entered the country from Slovakia on Mother’s Day and met with Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, who had not appeared in public since the Russian invasion began.

“She wanted to come on Mother’s Day,” Biden said before the start of a closed-door meeting between the two first ladies. “I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people 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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