Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) led a delegation of Republican senators to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday, making them the latest group of lawmakers to secretly travel to the embattled country as the Senate works to pass a nearly $40 billion aid package.
McConnell was joined by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Zelensky said in a statement the visit was a “powerful signal of bipartisan support,” and he thanked the U.S. for their strong sanctions, specifically banning Russian oil imports and the suspension of trade with Russia and Belarus.
Zelensky said he looked forward to additional sanctions from the U.S., and he urged lawmakers to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced a resolution earlier this week, calling for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to add Russia to the list.
The U.S. currently designates Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria as state sponsors of terrorism.
McConnell’s delegation is the latest group of lawmakers to visit Ukraine since Russia invaded in late February. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) traveled to Ukraine in April, making the pair the first known U.S. officials to visit the country since Russia’s invasion, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led a congressional delegation to the country earlier this month. First Lady Jill Biden made a surprise appearance in Ukraine on Sunday when she visited with Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska on Mother’s Day.
$39.8 billion. That’s how much aid to Ukraine is included in a bill the House passed Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Senate will act on the aid package “as soon as possible,” though Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) delayed a vote on the package until next week, saying he wants an inspector general to be appointed to oversee the new spending.
“Helping Ukraine is not an instance of mere philanthropy. It bears directly on America’s national security and vital interests that Russia’s naked aggression not succeed and carries significant costs,” McConnell said in a statement Thursday. “If Ukraine fails to repel Russian aggression, there is no question that the threat to American and European security will grow.”
President Joe Biden visited Poland in March, coming within 60 miles of the border with Ukraine, and he has repeatedly said he wants to make a trip to the country to show his support. Then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in April there were no plans to send the president to Ukraine. Other world leaders, like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, have traveled to Kyiv.