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President Joe Biden wished Volodymyr Zelensky safe travels Wednesday as the Ukrainian president heads to the United States while Vladimir Putin vowed retaliation in response to the U.S. giving the embattled nation the Patriot missile defense system.

Zelensky tweeted in the early morning hours that he was wheels up for his first trip outside the Ukraine since Russia invaded it in February. Biden replied with a warm message of welcome: ‘I hope you’re having a good flight, Volodymyr. I’m thrilled to have you here. Much to discuss.’

But overshadowing the historic visit is the looming specter of Russia, where officials announced they would put more boots on the ground in Ukraine and warned the increased U.S. military aid does ‘not bode well’ for the country.

President Joe Biden wished Volodymyr Zelensky safe travels on his way to U.S.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the Bakhmut region of his country on Tuesday

President Joe Biden wished Volodymyr Zelensky safe travels Wednesday as the Ukrainian president heads to the United States to meet with him at the White House and address Congress

As Zelensky was flying to the United States, Putin was speaking to his top military commanders, repeating his belief that Russian goals in Ukraine will be achieved and said the nation’s soldiers are fighting ‘like the heroes’ of the War of 1812, World War I and World War II.

Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu proposed increasing the size of Russian forces in the Ukraine to 1.5 million – up from the original target of 1.15 million service members.

Putin gave his approval, saying: ‘I agree with your proposals.’

During Zelensky’s historic American visit, which will only last a few hours, Biden will announce he is sending a Patriot missile system to the Ukraine – a defense system that Zelensky has long sought for his nation. 

The advanced weaponry is meant to show the U.S. committment to the Ukraine as officials acknowledge the war is unlikely to end anytime soon.

The administration 4also is set to announced Wednesday about $1 billion in weapons from Pentagon stocks and $800 million in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. 

Russia responded with aggression. 

Kremlin top spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the delivery of Patriot missiles will lead ‘to an aggravation of the conflict’ and does ‘not bode well for Ukraine.’

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While on the ground in Washington, Zelensky will have an Oval Office meeting with Biden, hold a press conference with the American president and then address a Joint Session of Congress.

Zelensky is making the visit at Biden’s personal invitation, a senior administration official said on Tuesday night.

‘He makes his own determinations about that travel based on what he believes is best going to deliver for his people,’ the official said of the Ukrainian president.

The visit will ‘underscore the United States is enduring commitment to Ukraine,’ the official noted.

Biden personally invited Zelensky to visit when they spoke on the phone on December 11. The two men speak often and Biden hosted Zelensky at the White House in September 2021 – about five months before Russia invaded.

Zelensky said in his tweet that the visit was ‘to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities’ of Ukraine and discuss cooperation between his country and the U.S with Biden. 

Polish broadcaster TVN24 said Zelensky crossed into Poland early Wednesday to start his journey.

The station showed footage of what appeared to be Zelensky arriving at a train station and being escorted to a motorcade, the Associated Press reported.

TVN24 said the video, which was partially blurred for security reasons, was shot Wednesday morning in Przemysl, a Polish border town that has been the arrival point for many refugees fleeing the war. 

The White House worked with the Ukraine on security arrangements for the trip and acknowledged they knew the risk of Russian action while Zelensky was out of the country. 

The official White House invite went out last Wednesday and Zelensky formally accepted the invitation last Friday. The White House then informed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose office invited Zelensky to address a joint session of Congress.

Biden has not visited the Ukraine during the Russian attack unlike other G7 leaders. The security precautions do not allow the American president to make the journey. Biden did visit the border region in Poland, where he met with Ukrainian refugees.

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The senior administration official acknowledged the coming winter will be hard for the Ukraine but said the nation had American support.

‘We know that the days ahead, the conflict will continue. The winter will be hard, and we will continue, day in day out to provide critical support to the Ukrainian people,’ the official said.

Zelensky’s visit comes as lawmakers are preparing to pass a federal budget for the next year that includes $44.9 billion for the Ukraine – the biggest amount to date and well above President Joe Biden‘s $37 billion request. 

The move ensures that funding will flow to the embattled nation for months to come amid questions about whether Republicans, who take control of the House on January 3rd, would continue financial assistance.  

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed retaliation in response to the U.S. giving the Ukraine the Patriot missile defense system

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed retaliation in response to the U.S. giving the Ukraine the Patriot missile defense system

The Patriot Missile system is widely considered one of the best and most capable of defending airspace against incoming attacks - Zelensky has long sought it for his country

The Patriot Missile system is widely considered one of the best and most capable of defending airspace against incoming attacks – Zelensky has long sought it for his country

Zelensky last visited the United States in September 2021 - meeting with President Biden in the Oval Office about five months before Russia invaded

Zelensky last visited the United States in September 2021 – meeting with President Biden in the Oval Office about five months before Russia invaded

Some Republicans are wary of continuing to back Ukraine – both through military aid as well as sanctions imposed on Russia. 

But the White House denied the visit is about arm-ringing Republicans – even though Congress is voting on the funding measure later this week.

‘This isn’t about sending a message to a particular political party. This is about sending a message to Putin and sending a message to the world that America will be there for Ukraine for as long as it takes,’ the senior administration official said. 

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Pelosi said she didn’t necessarily believe the incoming Republican majority would be less supportive. 

‘I don’t know if that’s the case,’ she said. ‘I feel very strong about the bipartisan support – that may not mean unanimous – but it does mean strong.’

Zelensky has long sought the Patriot missile defense system, which would help his military fend off Russian attacks that have destroyed much of its infrastructure.

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The Patriot Missile system is widely considered one of the best and most capable of defending airspace against incoming attacks. Because of its long range, it can potentially shoot down Russian missiles far from their intended targets inside Ukraine. 

It is a complicated system, however, that requires dozens of people to operate and usually takes months to train personnel on how to use. U.S. officials will train Ukrainian service members in Germany, according to reports.

It’s unclear when the missile system will be used in Ukraine given the long training period and the complex logisitical arrangements for delivering the sensitive equipment. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Zelensky in the Ukraine in May, where he gve her the Order of Princess Olga

Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Zelensky in the Ukraine in May, where he gve her the Order of Princess Olga

Zelensky on Tuesday met military officials and handed out awards to Ukrainian servicemen, who have been holding back a fierce and months-long Russian campaign for the city

Zelensky on Tuesday met military officials and handed out awards to Ukrainian servicemen, who have been holding back a fierce and months-long Russian campaign for the city

In a video released by his office from the Bakhmut visit, Zelensky was handed a Ukrainian flag and alluded to delivering it to U.S. leaders

In a video released by his office from the Bakhmut visit, Zelensky was handed a Ukrainian flag and alluded to delivering it to U.S. leaders 

The Ukrainian president on Tuesday visited the eastern frontline city of Bakhmut, now the epicentre of fighting in Russia’s nearly 10-month invasion of Ukraine. 

Zelensky met military officials and handed out awards to Ukrainian servicemen, who have been holding back a fierce and months-long Russian campaign for the city.

In a video released by his office from the Bakhmut visit, Zelensky was handed a Ukrainian flag and alluded to delivering it to U.S. leaders.

‘The guys handed over our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures for us to pass on,’ he said in the video. ‘We are not in an easy situation. The enemy is increasing its army, and our people are braver and need more powerful weapons. We will pass it on from the boys to the Congress, to the President of the United States. We are grateful for their support, but it is not enough. It is a hint – it is not enough.’

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