President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was in Washington on Tuesday to make a high-stakes pitch to Republican leaders that they should vote to provide his country with a new infusion of weaponry after a string of battlefield setbacks and to hold talks with the Biden administration about a new strategy to put those arms to use.
In making his case, the Ukrainian leader on Monday appealed to Ronald Reagan’s legacy of standing up to Russia. He argued that keeping Ukraine in the fight was in America’s national interest as a way to secure Eastern Europe from Russian aggression.
At stake is about half of Ukraine’s donated weaponry and a quarter of its foreign aid funding, as Congress debates an emergency spending bill that has become bogged down in a partisan dispute over U.S. border security.
In Kyiv, many regard the delay in the vote on the aid as a signal of wavering U.S. support that emboldens President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Russia’s military frustrated Ukraine’s campaign to retake land over the summer and has renewed offensives along the front line in the east.
Ukraine’s most pressing need is for air-defense ammunition, including munitions for the American Patriot system. That system has largely shielded the capital, Kyiv, and key infrastructure, including transformer stations at nuclear plants. Without more ammunition, Russia’s near nightly missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian cities could quickly cripple the country’s economy, undermining its to raise money for the war.
The everyday supply needs of the Ukrainian Army, fighting a land war in trenches across about 600 miles, are also highly dependent on American assistance.
The United States has already transferred $44.2 billion in arms and ammunition to Ukraine since Russian forces invaded in February 2022, according to the U.S. government. The aid has included more than 2 million rounds of artillery ammunition, as well as hundreds of armored vehicles, missiles and specialized gear such as demining equipment.
Ukraine is still outgunned, however, and its army is expending less ammunition than Russia’s. Earlier this year, the secretary of the NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, estimated Ukraine is firing 4,000 to 7,000 artillery shells a day compared to 20,000 by the Russian military.
Further complicating Ukraine’s defenses, trucks carrying important equipment, including reconnaissance drones, have been delayed for weeks at the border with Poland, as Polish truckers block roads to protest lower taxes and fees paid by Ukrainian drivers.
Aid from the European Union is also in doubt, as Hungary has resisted further spending on Ukraine.
In addition to persuading Congress to approve more aid, Mr. Zelensky also hopes to hold discussions in Washington about harmonizing American and Ukrainian thoughts on strategy, a statement he released before his visit suggested.
Kyiv’s summer counteroffensive, which relied on billions of dollars in Western aid, stalled about 45 miles short of its objective on the Sea of Azov, and since then, the Russian army has staged large-scale assaults toward a string of towns along the eastern front. Over the weekend, there were multiple attacks, Ukraine’s military said.
When the counteroffensive fell short, there was finger pointing in Washington and Kyiv. Mr. Zelensky argued that Ukraine’s allies had provided insufficient weaponry to achieve the objective of severing Russian supply lines while U.S. officials said Ukraine had spread its forces too thin across the front to fully break through Russian lines.