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Ukrainian President Zelenskyy set to visit Washington

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to be in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. That's according to a congressional and a diplomatic source.

Joining us now to discuss is NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks for being here.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Oh, thank you for having me.

SUMMERS: So this is a pretty big deal. It's the first time we're aware of that Zelenskyy has left the country since the full-scale invasion began. So just get us up to speed. Tell us what you know.

MONTANARO: You're right. I mean, this is a big moment - like you said, the first time Zelenskyy as we know has left Ukraine or would be leaving Ukraine since the Russian invasion started. And this has been going on since February. You can imagine the security concerns and why this had been kept so secret.

You know, this is a very big moment because Ukraine has dug in and been able to fend off Russia for far longer than many thought was possible. But the Ukrainian people and Zelenskyy have shown tremendous will to fight, done so with the backing of the U.S. and European countries, monetarily and most importantly, with weapons. Zelenskyy himself has become a symbol of resolve in this war around the world, you know, just a remarkable thing for a president who acted in TV comedy before leading the country. You know, he's used those communications skills, but now as the new year's coming, he's banking on that support from the United States to continue.

SUMMERS: The Washington that Zelenskyy spoke to the last time he spoke to this country is very different from the Washington of today. Republicans will control the House in January, ushering in an era of divided government. How might that change things between these two countries?

MONTANARO: It's a really interesting political move because this is, you know, shaping up to be one of the big political fights of the new year. You know, Ukraine funding to this point has been bipartisan. The U.S. has poured in billions upon billions of dollars to Ukraine's defense. And President Biden, who's been steeped in foreign policy for most of his political career, is full-in on wanting to help. Of course, the president controls the sword, and Congress controls the purse. And those straps have been getting tighter.

You know, Republicans are taking over control of the House in just a couple of weeks. And there's a growing chorus on the right and from some on the left who really don't want to keep writing blank checks and keep funding the war. You know, this is going to be one of those funding fights in the next Congress that is just going to be incredibly pitched and Biden and Zelenskyy, with this appearance in Washington, putting down a marker and making it personal.

SUMMERS: Before we let you go, what's the message that the U.S. might hear from Zelenskyy?

MONTANARO: We've heard a lot from Zelenskyy, you know, over video conferences. You know, he's toured democratically elected legislatures earlier in the year - and expect him to really paint Ukraine as the final defense in this conflict between authoritarianism and democracy. You know, he's going to make this a battle between ideology...

SUMMERS: OK.

MONTANARO: ...And what the U.S. wants to stand for around the world - and really going to be testing whether the U.S. has the resolve to stand with them.

SUMMERS: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.