RIYADH/JEDDAH: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blamed “terrorist” Iran for assisting Russian attacks against his country’s critical infrastructure and urged US leaders to act, or risk emboldening Tehran against American allies.
“Russia found an ally in this genocidal policy — Iran,” Zelensky told a packed joint-session of the US Congress on Wednesday. “Iranian deadly drones sent to Russia in the hundreds became a threat to our critical infrastructure. That is how one terrorist has found the other.”
Western officials have said that Iran had supplied Russia with drones used to target Ukrainian energy infrastructure. The attacks have left millions of Ukrainians without heat or running water.
“It is just a matter of time before they strike against one of your allies,” said the Ukrainian president, telling lawmakers to take action to prevent that scenario from happening.
Iran-backed entities have for years attacked the US and its allies, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in actions that have drawn international rebuke.
Yemen’s Houthi militia, who are supported by Tehran, have launched missiles into the Kingdom that have killed civilians and damaged infrastructure, including oil refineries and civilian airports.
The US will supply Ukraine with the powerful Patriot missile defense system as part of a $1.85 billion military assistance package in the war with Russia.
The aid includes a $1 billion drawdown to provide Ukraine with “expanded air defense and precision-strike capabilities” and an additional $850 million in security assistance, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.
The package came as Zelensky arrived in Washington to meet President Joe Biden and seek “weapons, weapons and more weapons” in his first overseas trip since Russia invaded in February.
Zelensky said the visit was intended to strengthen Ukraine’s “resilience and defense capabilities” amid repeated Russian missile and drone attacks on the country’s energy and water supplies.
Biden said on Wednesday at a White House news conference with Zelensky that Russian President Vladimir Putin has no intention of ending “this cruel war.”
He said US shares the same vision of a “free, independent, prosperous and secure Ukraine.”
Biden said that when Zelensky is ready to negotiate a settlement with Moscow, he will “be able to succeed as well because he would have won on the battlefield.”
Zelensky said that a “just peace” with Russia means no compromises on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Zelensky’s political adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, said the visit “puts an end to the attempts by the Russian side ... to prove an allegedly growing cooling in our relations. Weapons, weapons and more weapons — it is important to personally explain why we need certain types of weapons. In particular, armored vehicles, the latest missile defense systems and long-range missiles.”
White House spokesman John Kirby said: “Clearly we’re going to make sure that President Zelensky, when he leaves this country, knows that he’s leaving with the full support of the US.”
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin was defiant on Wednesday at an end-of-year meeting of defense chiefs, at which he said Russian forces were fighting like heroes in Ukraine, would be equipped with modern weapons, and would achieve all Moscow’s goals.
Russia has suffered a string of battlefield defeats since the summer amid widespread reports of disorganization, poor training and shoddy equipment.
Putin said there were no financial limits on what the government would provide for the army, but military chiefs had to learn from and fix the problems they had experienced in Ukraine.
He backed a plan by his defense minister to boost the size of the armed forces by more than 30 percent to 1.5 million combat troops. A call-up of 300,000 reservists in September was plagued with problems, with many men physically unfit or too old and lacking basic equipment.
Putin said he considered Ukrainians to be a “brotherly” people, and blamed the war on “third countries seeking the disintegration of the Russian world.” The West has rejected this as nonsense, and says the Russian invasion of Ukraine is an imperial-style land grab.
— With input from Reuters