December 21, 2022 Russia-Ukraine and Zelensky news

By Adrienne Vogt, Leinz Vales, Aditi Sangal, Rhea Mogul, Hannah Strange, Sophie Tanno, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 11:14 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022
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3:43 p.m. ET, December 21, 2022

US official: It will take "several months" for Ukraine's forces to be trained to use Patriot air defense

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman and Oren Liebermann

It will take “several months” for Ukrainian forces to be properly trained to operate the Patriot battery system, a senior US defense official told reporters Wednesday after President Joe Biden announced the US would send a battery to Ukraine.  

“Patriot does require training and we expect it will take several months to ensure Ukrainian forces have the training they need to employ it successfully,” the official said.

The Patriot air defense battery and munitions the US is sending to Ukraine — as a part of the latest Presidential Drawdown Package of security assistance — “will give Ukraine a critical long-range capability” to defend against “cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and aircraft,” the official added. 

Ukraine has been asking the US and NATO allied countries for more air defense as Russia continues its assault on Ukraine. The Patriot system is one part of the air defense the US and other allies are providing, the official said.  

“For air defense, there is no silver bullet. Our goal is to help Ukraine strengthen a layered integrated approach to air defense,” the official said. “Patriot will complement a range of medium and short-range capabilities that we’ve provided and that allies have provided in prior donation packages.” 

3:38 p.m. ET, December 21, 2022

Expert predicts Kyiv will at best have 10 hours of electricity a day in early January 

From CNN's Julia Kesaieva in Kyiv

Cars drive along a road in Kyiv during a blackout last week.
Cars drive along a road in Kyiv during a blackout last week. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Even in the best scenario, Kyiv is unlikely to have more than 10 hours of power a day in early January, an expert on Ukraine's electricity crisis said.

The last wave of Russian drone attacks "was focused specifically on Kyiv’s electrical grid and led to significant damage to the whole system," Oleksandr Kharchenko, director of Energy Industry Research Center, said on Ukrainian television. "Given the nature of the damage, I think that the people of Kyiv city should prepare for the fact that for the next two-three weeks, the availability of electricity for four-six hours in the house [per day] would be good news."

"Within a week and a half at the most, rather, maybe in a week, we will return to scheduled outages, in Kyiv city and the region," Kharchenko added.

Even so, he said, "at best, we will have electricity 10 hours a day, and 14 hours with no electricity" early in the new year.

While the good news was that "a large amount of equipment is coming," including mobile generation, the constant disturbance to electricity supplies has damaged small substations, he said.

"Repair crews cannot be everywhere at the same time. When deciding whether to repair something providing 30 houses versus a substation providing three houses, the choice is often made in favor of the one where more people can be connected. So there are isolated situations where people really suffer," Kharchenko explained, adding that engineers were learning how to mitigate the effects of Russian missile and drone strikes.

It is likely that some Ukrainians "will be forced to celebrate the New Year in extremely difficult conditions," he said, recommending that people link up with friends who have generators. "I think it will be more fun to be together."

3:02 p.m. ET, December 21, 2022

Biden tells Zelensky that the US will ship Patriot air defense missile system to Ukraine

From CNN's DJ Judd

Patriot missile launchers are seen at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in Poland.
Patriot missile launchers are seen at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in Poland. (Reuters)

US President Joe Biden welcomed Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky to the White House for a bilateral meeting Wednesday, pledging the United States would “continue to strengthen Ukraine's ability to defend itself — particularly air defense.”

Biden told Zelensky that Americans of both political parties stand with Ukrainians and, along with allies “in Europe, Japan and other places to make sure you have the financial humanitarian and security assistance that you needed,” including a newly announced shipment of Patriot air defense missile systems

Earlier Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an additional $1.85 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, including the first transfer of the Patriot missile defense system.

6:24 p.m. ET, December 21, 2022

Zelensky presents Biden with Ukrainian cross for military merit

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky presents US President Joe Biden with a Ukrainian cross for military merit in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky presents US President Joe Biden with a Ukrainian cross for military merit in the Oval Office on Wednesday. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky presented US President Joe Biden with a Ukrainian cross for military merit after both leaders spoke to reporters from the White House.

Zelensky thanked Biden and the US Congress for their support and expressed appreciation to the American people as well.

"Thank you so much, Mr. President. Of course thanks bipartisan support, thanks Congress, and thanks from our just ordinary people to your ordinary people, Americans. I really appreciate," he said.

Zelensky then presented Biden with the cross for military merit, which he said was passed along from a captain in the Ukrainian military fighting in the Donbas region.

"One guy who's really, really a hero, real captain, and he asked me to pass his award, and he asked me to pass his award to President Biden," Zelensky said. "He's very brave and he said give it to very brave President, and I want to give you, that is a cross for military merit."

Biden thanked Zelensky and said that he would send the Ukrainian captain a US command coin in return.

"Undeserved but much appreciated, thank you," Biden said. "Well, we have a tradition here, and I will give it to him. My son who fought in Iraq, they have what they call a command coin. Have you seen those coins we get in the battlefield? I will make sure that he gets one of those. Thank you."

2:40 p.m. ET, December 21, 2022

Biden remarks on 300 days of Russia's war in Ukraine

US President Joe Biden remarked on 300 days of Russia's war in Ukraine as he spoke to reporters on Wednesday along with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"Mr. President, it's good to have you back," Biden told Zelensky. "It's an honor to be by your side in the united defense against what is a brutal, brutal war waged by Putin."

"Hard to believe, 300 days going through this, and Putin has waged a brutal assault on the Ukrainians' right to exist as a nation, and the attack on innocent Ukrainian people for no reason other than to intimidate," Biden added, noting the escalated Russian attacks on energy and civil infrastructure.

Putin is "trying to use winter as a weapon," Biden said.

He reassured that Americans, along with European allies, stand with Ukraine.

2:43 p.m. ET, December 21, 2022

Zelensky will try to make case to Americans that Ukraine aid is also in US interests, former ambassador says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US President Joe Biden walk through the White House colonnade on Wednesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US President Joe Biden walk through the White House colonnade on Wednesday. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

During his visit to the US, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will likely have a few points he wants to convey to US President Joe Biden, Congress and the American people, Steven Pifer, a former US ambassador to Ukraine, said.

The first of those points will likely be gratitude, Pifer said on CNN as Ukrainian president arrived in Washington, DC, Wednesday.

"The United States has been the key partner for Ukraine as it fights off this unprovoked war of aggression that Vladimir Putin launched on Ukraine back in February," he said.

Biden is set to announce an additional $1.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine during the visit, with the coveted Patriot missile systems as part of that package. Additionally, Congress is poised to sign off on another $45 billion in aid for Ukraine and NATO allies, deepening the commitment that has helped Kyiv's forces inflict an unexpectedly bloody price on Putin's forces. 

That's on top of dozens of previous financial and military aid packages from the US since the war began.

Pifer said Zelensky will use his visit to make the case that this assistance needs to continue as the war drags on into the winter months. Zelensky will likely try to argue that not only is it good for Ukraine — but that fighting Russia is in US interests as well, Pifer said in his analysis.

"Going back 70 years, it's been in the US national interest to have a stable and secure Europe. If Russia wins this war, you're not going to have that kind of Europe. It's going to soak up much more time and American resources," he said.

Another point, Pifer said, is that "we don't know how far Vladimir Putin's ambitions go."

"When he talks about Ukraine, he talks about not a sovereign country, but what he refers to as historic Russian land," Pifer said, adding that its hard for the US and other ally countries to tell if Russia would continue its aggression on other parts in the region — including some countries, like Poland, who are members of NATO.

2:36 p.m. ET, December 21, 2022

Expert: Patriot air defense systems will help Ukraine defend against Russian attacks, but "not a game changer"

From CNN's Haley Britzky

(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Experts say that while the Patriot defense missile system will be a valuable addition to Ukraine’s air defense, it’s not a cure-all.

The Patriot’s radar system combines “surveillance, tracking, and engagement functions in one unit,” according to a description from the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), which makes it stand out among other air defense systems. The system’s engagements with incoming aerial threats are “nearly autonomous” aside from needing a “final launch decision” from the humans operating it.

Ukraine has repeatedly asked for the US Army’s Patriot – an acronym for Phased Array Tracking Radar for intercept on Target – system, as it is considered one of the most capable long-range air defense systems on the market. And though the US did not fulfill the request for the first 10 months of the war, a senior administration official told CNN that the “reality of what is going on” on the ground in Ukraine influenced their decision to do so.

In recent weeks, the Russian military has increasingly attacked Ukraine’s power grid and infrastructure as winter approached and the temperatures dropped. Those attacks have only further fueled Ukraine’s asks for the Patriot.

But retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, former commander of US Army Europe, told CNN that there is likely some unrealistic expectations about what a Patriot battery will be able to do for Ukraine. It won’t, for example, be available to use immediately after the US agrees to provide it — it takes months to train troops on how to use the complex system, Hertling said, adding that training US troops to serve as maintainers or repairmen takes around a year. And it won’t be able to provide blanket cover for the entire country.

“These systems don’t pick up and move around the battlefield,” Hertling said. “You put them in place somewhere that defends your most strategic target, like a city, like Kyiv. If anyone thinks this is going to be a system that is spread across a 500-mile border between Ukraine and Russia, they just don’t know how the system operates.”

Tom Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at CSIS, told CNN that the Patriot is “not a game changer” because it is “still only able to defend a relatively small piece of dirt.”

And just one battery is operated by roughly 90 soldiers, and includes computers, an engagement control system, a phased array radar, power generating equipment, and “up to eight launchers,” according to the Army.

Read more.

2:21 p.m. ET, December 21, 2022

Ukrainian President Zelensky arrives at the White House

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden greet Ukrainian President Zelensy at the White House on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden greet Ukrainian President Zelensy at the White House on Wednesday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has arrived at the White House to meet with US President Joe Biden. He was greeted by Biden and first lady Jill Biden.

The two leaders are scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting.

This is Zelensky's first foreign trip since the war began. The Ukrainian president was clad in his typical green-colored cargo pants and a sweatshirt with a small insignia of Ukraine's coat of arms on it.

Later today: Zelensky will hold a news conference with Biden and address a joint meeting of Congress at 7:30 p.m. ET.

2:10 p.m. ET, December 21, 2022

US Vice President Kamala Harris will attend Zelensky's address to joint meeting of Congress

From CNN's DJ Judd


According to an updated advisory, Vice President Kamala Harris will attend Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to a joint meeting of Congress tonight at the US Capitol.

Zelensky is set to deliver the address at 7:30 p.m. ET.