As Zelensky Heads to Washington, Russia Targets Kyiv With Missiles

As President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine heads to Washington on an urgent mission to rally flagging Western support for his nation, the Russian military on Monday targeted the Ukrainian capital with the most intense salvo of ballistic missiles in months.

Explosions boomed over the snow-covered capital, Kyiv, shortly after 4 a.m.: Missiles racing toward the city at several times the speed of sound had been shot out of the sky even before air alarms could sound and send civilians racing for shelter.

The bombardment came hours after a video circulated on Sunday of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, sipping champagne in Moscow and celebrating waning Western support for Kyiv as he declared that Ukraine had “no future.”

All eight missiles aimed at Kyiv, a city of 3.3 million people, were shot down, and 18 Russian attack drones aimed at targets in southern Ukraine were also defeated, the Ukrainian military said. City officials said that at least four people were injured by falling debris in Kyiv.

The attack came just over two weeks after Russian forces targeted Kyiv with 75 drones — the largest number aimed at the capital since Russia launched its full scale invasion nearly two years ago — and less than four days after the Russian Air Force conducted the first major wave of strikes on Kyiv using its heavy bomber fleet in nearly three months.

“This was probably the start of a more concerted campaign by Russia aimed at degrading Ukraine’s energy infrastructure,” Britain’s defense intelligence agency said on social media just hours before Monday’s pre-dawn assault, referring to the recent attacks.

The ability of Ukrainian air defense crews, using a variety of systems provided by Western partners, to shoot down nearly all incoming missiles and drones over the past week, is a vivid reminder of the vital role Kyiv’s allies play in protecting millions from Russian assaults.

But with a White House request for additional military support for Ukraine stalled in Congress, further American assistance is now in doubt.

The European Union will seek to approve some $50 billion in aid for Ukraine in coming days, but Hungary has threatened to veto that effort, adding to a feeling of uncertainty that is pervasive across Ukraine.

Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, gave voice to that sentiment in an interview with the BBC over the weekend.

“We really need the help,” she said. “In simple words, we cannot get tired of this situation, because if we do, we die.” She added: “It hurts us greatly to see the signs that the passionate willingness to help may fade.”

Mr. Putin, who in the video that circulated Sunday declared that he intends to maintain his grip on power for the foreseeable future, also said he believes Ukraine will only grow weaker as Russia grows stronger.

“When you don’t have your own foundations, you don’t have your own ideology, you don’t have your own industry, you don’t have your own money,” he said at an awards ceremony on Friday at the Kremlin, holding a glass of champagne in his hand. “You don’t have anything that’s your own. Then you don’t have a future, but we have a future.”

Mr. Putin launched his war in February 2022 on the false premise that Ukrainian statehood was a fiction, and he has twisted history in an attempt to justify the destruction of a neighboring state that threatens his imperial ambitions.

The spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, told the Agence France-Presse news agency in a report published over the weekend that the Kremlin had not changed its maximalist goals: the complete political capitulation of Kyiv and the surrender of vast swaths of Ukrainian land to Russia.

The Russian military controls parts of four Ukrainian regions — Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. However, Moscow has illegally annexed the entirety of those regions last year and declared them to be part of Russia.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research group, said in its latest analysis, that it believed that “Russia’s aims far transcend keeping the territory Russian forces have already seized.”

Fierce fighting continues to rage across the front line as Ukraine increasingly moves into a defensive posture and as Moscow masses troops for another winter offensive.

“The operational situation in the east remains difficult,” Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander of Ukraine’s eastern forces, said on Sunday. “The enemy does not stop conducting offensive operations along the entire front.”

Ukraine’s military said there were nearly 100 clashes with Russian forces over the past 24 hours. Some of the most intense battles were taking place around the embattled city of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

While the situation on the battlefield remains deadlocked — with Russia finding it as difficult to advance through heavily fortified lines this winter as Ukrainian forces did last summer — Ukraine’s diplomatic efforts appear to be intensifying.

Mr. Zelensky’s office said he would travel from Argentina, where he attended the weekend inauguration of the country’s newly elected president, Javier Milei, to Washington for meetings on Tuesday to discuss “joint projects for the production of weapons and air defense systems, as well as coordination of the two countries’ efforts next year.”

His office said he “will focus on ensuring the unity of the United States, Europe and the world around supporting Ukraine in its defense against Russian terror and in strengthening the international order based on rules and respect for the sovereignty of each nation.”

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said that President Biden would meet with Mr. Zelensky as a demonstration of America’s “unshakable commitment” to Ukraine.

“As Russia ramps up its missile and drone strikes against Ukraine, the leaders will discuss Ukraine’s urgent needs and the vital importance of the United States’ continued support at this critical moment,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said.

But that commitment has been cast into doubt as Republicans continue to block a $110.5 billion emergency spending bill that includes an additional $61 billion in aid for Ukraine, insisting it be tied to measures related to U.S. border security.

Mr. Zelensky will also meet with Mike Johnson, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, the congressman’s spokesman said in a statement.

While Ukrainians are hopeful that the United States will not abandon them, the resistance of a growing and influential faction of Republicans comes at what was already a difficult moment in a war that shows no signs of easing.

Ukrainian air defense teams managed to shoot down the missiles aimed at Kyiv before dawn on Monday. But Ukrainians know this is just the start of a long, hard winter.