Former US Vice President Mike Pence, who is running for the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential election, made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Thursday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“Freedom is winning in Ukraine. Now, more than ever, we are standing for freedom here in Ukraine and pushing back Russian aggression,” Pence told reporters after meeting with Zelensky. We need to keep our faith in these brave warriors.”
Pence is the first Republican presidential candidate to meet with Zelensky during the campaign.
Pence is a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a staunch supporter of Ukraine’s tussle with former boss Donald Trump for the party’s nomination.
Trump did not say he wanted Ukraine to win the war, but instead said he wanted a negotiated solution between Russia and Ukraine.
Pence trails Trump by more than 30 percentage points in most polls of Republican voters looking for a candidate to run against Democratic President Joe Biden.
Pence laid a wreath at the Ukrainian War Memorial Wall in Kiev. Pence’s adviser said he traveled to Ukraine with Samaritan’s Purse, a U.S.-based charity that provides humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian civilians.
The US government has provided over $40 billion in weapons and other military aid to Ukraine. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that a majority of Americans support sending arms to Ukraine.
Mr Pence was also briefed by Ukrainian officials on Russia’s human rights abuses since the Russian army invaded Ukraine 16 months ago.
The issue of the war in Ukraine divides Republican presidential candidate opinion.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a frontrunner in the Trump nomination race, has questioned how much aid should be provided to Ukraine, but Trump’s former UN Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and the United States South Carolina Senator Tim Scott supports continued aid.
In his evening speech, President Zelensky said, “American support for Ukraine from all Americans, all American families, all American civil society, all political leaders, Congress, both parties, and of course, US President Biden, is essential.” and thanked the Americans. Mr Zelensky said he and Mr Pence “discussed weapons, soldier capabilities and shared values”.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Rami Ayyub, Tim Reid; Editing by Alison Williams and Grant McCool)