Pelosi secret visit to Ukraine highlights expanse — and limitations — of US support

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) secret visit to Kyiv on Saturday demonstrated a remarkable show of U.S. support for the embattled Ukrainians, providing further proof that Washington policymakers are both bracing for a lengthy conflict and prepared to furnish help for the long haul.

The surprise excursion — marking the first visit inside Ukraine by a congressional leader since Russian launched its invasion more than two months ago — featured a long discussion between Pelosi and her delegation, which included six other prominent House Democrats, and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky about the status of the fight, the nature of Western assistance and the expectations of what’s to come.

Pelosi afterwards promised that U.S. support will endure “until victory is won.”

“Do not be bullied by bullies,” she told reporters afterwards. “If they’re making threats, you cannot back down.” 

But if the three-hour meeting substantiated the strong relations between the two democratic allies — and the commitment of the United States to defend Ukraine from the imperial designs of Russian President Vladimir Putin — it also highlights the boundaries of Western involvement. 

While the U.S. has already approved more than $13 billion in military, humanitarian and economic support for Ukraine since the Feb. 24 invasion — and the Biden administration last week requested $33 billion more, which Congress appears ready to approve — the United States and its NATO allies have also refused to confront Russian forces head-on for fear of escalating the fight with the volatile Putin, who controls the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. 

The hands-off approach, illustrating the limitations of Western military might in the age of nuclear arms, has persisted even as more and more atrocities conducted by Russian forces have come to light, including the purposeful targeting of civilians. 

Zelensky on Sunday was diplomatic in his meeting with Pelosi and the Democrats — “You’re all very welcome,” he said in a brief video posted by his office on Twitter — but he’s also been forceful in expressing his frustrations with the U.S. and other NATO countries for what he considers an insufficient response to Putin’s unprovoked aggression. His calls for the West to help secure a no-fly zone over Ukraine, for instance, have been rebuffed as too risky. 

Still, as the conflict has evolved, and Russia has stepped up its attacks on the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, the Biden administration is ramping up the assistance, including the recent decision to provide increasingly sophisticated weapons systems to help Ukrainian forces weather the onslaught. 

Pelosi’s visit is only the latest confirmation of the U.S. commitment to the fight, at least when it comes to amenities and economic help, and on Sunday she framed the battle as a type of proxy war pitting the liberties of Western democracy against the forces of tyranny embodied by Putin. 

“We believe that we are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom,” she told Zelensky. 

Joining Pelosi on the trip were several other prominent Democrats: Reps. Jim McGovern (Mass.), who heads the Rules Committee; Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs panel; and Adam Schiff (Calif.), chair of the Intelligence Committee, who stressed the importance of providing Zelensky’s forces with the latest information gathering from U.S.  intelligence agencies.

“The suffering is senseless, and the entire world is on edge as Putin’s assault on Ukraine and democracy continues,” Schiff said in a statement. 

Filling out the roster were Reps. Barbara Lee (Calif.), who heads the Appropriations Committee’s subpanel on foreign operations; Bill Keating (Mass.), chair of the Europe subcommittee on Foreign Affairs; and Jason Crow (Colo.), an Army veteran who also sits on the Intelligence and Armed Services panels. 

Sunday’s visit comes on the heels of several other high-level trips to the region by Washington policymakers. 

Last week, two leading members of Biden’s cabinet — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Blinken — visited Kyiv, where they also met with Zelensky. And over the Easter recess last month, at least three groups of lawmakers visited the Poland-Ukraine border, including one led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and another by his Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Each of those groups featured lawmakers of both parties, unlike Pelosi’s more recent venture, which included only Democrats. 

Aside from the billions of dollars in funding, Congress has also moved to help Ukraine in other ways. Last week, the House sent legislation to Biden that eliminates some of the bureaucratic red tape surrounding foreign assistance, empowering the administration to deliver aid to Kyiv more quickly. And the Democrats visiting this weekend promised that more help is forthcoming, including the $33 billion Biden recently requested. 

“[Zelensky] conveyed the clear need for continued security, economic and humanitarian assistance from the United States to address the devastating human toll taken on the Ukrainian people by Putin’s diabolic invasion – and our delegation proudly delivered the message that additional American support is on the way,” Pelosi and her delegation said in a joint statement. 

The group of Democrats is traveling next to Poland, where they plan to meet with President Andrzej Duda early Monday morning.

This story was updated at 2:47 p.m. to reflect that the trip by Pelosi was the first by a congressional leader since the Russian war began. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mt.) and Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) visited the country last month.

Tags Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Nancy Pelosi Nancy Pelosi Russia Speaker ukraine Ukraine Vladimir Putin Volodymyr Zelensky

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