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Zelensky to Make a Case for More Aid in U.S. Visit

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A hero’s welcome awaited President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on his first trip to the United States after Russia’s full-scale invasion, which came on the heels of two back-to-back military advances that showcased Ukrainian momentum to the West. Mr. Zelensky spoke to a joint session of Congress last December, highlighting the successes and appealing for continued aid.

Mr. Zelensky’s second visit, beginning on Tuesday, is a more delicate political mission, coming in the face of skepticism over assistance to Ukraine from some Republican lawmakers and amid a slow-moving and so far inconclusive counteroffensive on which many hopes in the war had been pinned.

Mr. Zelensky will attend the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, where he is expected to continue an effort to win support among developing nations that have wavered or leaned toward Russia. Then he will travel to Washington to meet with congressional leaders and visit the White House.

The Ukrainian president is approaching his appearances with a more balanced message. He remains a tireless advocate for military assistance for the Ukrainian Army, but has infused his pleas with deep expressions of gratitude for what the West has already provided.

Other factors added to the delay, including late spring rains, but the Ukrainian government’s evolving argument was that the West’s hesitation over sending more powerful and sophisticated weapons was costly in terms of the counteroffensive’s effectiveness.

In addition to lobbying the United States and Europe for military aid, Ukraine has been seeking diplomatic backing from developing countries in Africa and South America, arguing that disruptions in grain shipments are raising food prices. He also wants to shore up support from military allies, of which the United States is most pivotal.

“It’s a different kind of conversation” for the Ukrainian leader in Washington as the United States moves into an election year, Igor Novikov, a former U.S. policy adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said in an interview. The president will try “to keep the substance of the war on the agenda and not alow it to become domestic political pingpong, because it’s a matter of life and death.”

With Ukraine bubbling up as a domestic political issue in the United States and European nations, Kyiv will need to engage politicians opposed to Ukraine spending, Mr. Novikov said.

Ukrainian politicians of all viewpoints have said the country’s national interest lies in maintaining bipartisan support for U.S. aid. Mr. Zelensky met in Kyiv over the summer with former Vice President Mike Pence and has regularly hosted Republican members of Congress.

In Washington, Mr. Zelensky also intends to argue that America’s interests are served in defending Europe’s borders in Ukraine, according to an official in the president’s office. Otherwise, the war could spread, destabilizing the European Union, which is the United States’ largest trading partner.

In the run-up to the invasion, Russia stated claims to security influence in Eastern Europe more broadly, demanding that countries admitted to NATO after the breakup of the Soviet Union leave the alliance.

“If Ukraine were to fail, Putin would be emboldened with profound security and economic effects for the United States and average Americans,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about Mr. Zelensky’s visit. “We will reiterate that Americans should never have to fight Russians in Europe, and the best way to secure that is Ukrainian victory.”

Mr. Zelensky also intends to lay out in private conversations Ukraine’s plans in the war, the official said, to assuage worries that the fighting could bog down in the back-and-forth battles of recent months along the front. Ukraine has scored some success in long-range strikes on Russian air and naval bases and this month damaged a landing ship and submarine in the port of Sevastopol, in occupied Crimea.

Still, a key goal, the official said, is to deliver “a huge message of gratitude to the president, Congress and the American people.”

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