As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was preparing to address Congress, Russia warned that increasing military aid to the beleaguered country would only aggravate the 10-month conflict.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters at an earlier press briefing in Moscow that the expansion of Western weapon supplies to Ukraine “leads to an aggravation of the conflict and, in fact, does not bode well for Ukraine.”
Asked whether Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington would possibly lead to possible peace talks with Russia, Peskov said: “I don’t think so.”
His comments were the first official Russian reaction to news that Zelenskyy was heading to Washington – the president’s first known foreign trip since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion triggered a war that has killed thousands and laid waste to towns and cities across Ukraine.
Zelenskyy met with President Joe Biden in Washington Wednesday, where U.S. officials announced a huge new military aid package for Kyiv. He later addressed Congress, where he thanked U.S. leaders and “ordinary Americans” for their support in fighting off the invaders and pressed for additional aid.
Biden said the U.S. and Ukraine would continue to project a “united defense” as Russia wages a “brutal assault on Ukraine’s right to exist as a nation.”
The massive $1.8 billion package includes for the first time a Patriot missile battery and precision guided bombs for fighter jets, U.S. officials said.
Speaking during a meeting with his top military brass, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would take lessons learned in the conflict to “develop our armed forces and strengthen the capability of our troops.”
He said special emphasis would go to developing nuclear forces, which he described as “the main guarantee of Russia’s sovereignty.”
Putin also said the Russian military’s new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile will enter service shortly. The Sarmat is intended to replace aging Soviet-built ballistic missiles and form the core of Russia’s nuclear forces.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the beefed-up Russian military will include 695,000 volunteer contract soldiers, 521,000 of whom should be recruited by the end of 2023. The Russian military had about 400,000 contract soldiers as part of its 1-million-member military before the fighting in Ukraine began.
He also said Russia would form new units in the country’s west in view of ambitions by Finland and Sweden to join NATO.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.