December 12, 2023 - Zelensky meets with Biden and lawmakers in push for more Ukraine aid

By Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 1:31 p.m. ET, December 13, 2023
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12:58 p.m. ET, December 12, 2023

Russia has lost nearly 90% of troops it had prior to Ukraine invasion, according to US intelligence assessment

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis

Soldiers march in Moscow during a Victory Day military parade in May.
Soldiers march in Moscow during a Victory Day military parade in May. VCG/Getty Images

Russia has lost a staggering 87 percent of the total number of active-duty ground troops it had prior to launching its invasion of Ukraine and two-thirds of its pre-invasion tanks, a source familiar with a declassified US intelligence assessment provided to Congress told CNN.

Still, despite heavy losses of men and equipment, Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to push forward as the war approaches its two-year anniversary early next year, and US officials are warning that Ukraine remains deeply vulnerable. A highly anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive stagnated through the fall, and US officials believe that Kyiv is unlikely to make any major gains over the coming months.

The assessment, sent to Capitol Hill on Monday, comes as some Republicans have balked at the US providing additional funding for Ukraine and the Biden administration has launched a full-court press to try to get supplemental funding through Congress.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is in Washington on Tuesday, meeting with US lawmakers and President Joe Biden in desperate bid to secure the military and economic aid he says is vital to Ukraine’s ability to maintain the fight against Russia.

Russia has been able to keep its war effort going despite the heavy losses by relaxing recruitment standards and dipping into Soviet-era stockpiles of older equipment. Still, the assessment found that the war has “sharply set back 15 years of Russian effort to modernize its ground force.”

Of the 360,000 troops that entered Ukraine, including contract and conscript personnel, Russia has lost 315,000 on the battlefield, according to the assessment. 2,200 of 3,500 tanks have been lost, according to the assessment. 4,400 of 13,600 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers have also been destroyed, a 32 percent loss rate.

“As of late November, Russia lost over a quarter of its pre-invasion stockpiles of ground forces equipment,” the assessment reads. “This has reduced the complexity and scale of Russian offensive operations, which have failed to make major gains in Ukraine since early 2022.”

CNN has reached out to the Russian Embassy in Washington for comment.

Read more about the assessment.

12:47 p.m. ET, December 12, 2023

Conditions for Ukraine aid remain unchanged, House Speaker Johnson says after meeting with Zelensky

From CNN's Haley Talbot

House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks to the press after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday.
House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks to the press after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

House Speaker Mike Johnson said he had a "good" meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday — but remained firm in his stance that the US needs to address the border first before advancing on an aid bill.

“From the very beginning, when I was handed the gavel, we needed clarity on what we're doing in Ukraine and how we'll have proper oversight of the spending of precious taxpayer dollars, and we needed a transformative change at the border. Thus far we've gotten neither,” Johnson said, calling the border an “absolute catastrophe.”

The “first condition on any national security supplemental spending package is about our own national security first,” he added.

Johnson insisted the White House has not been able to articulate a clear strategy that helps Ukraine win, and slammed the Senate for being “MIA.”

“The House passed HR 2 six months ago, more than six months ago. It's been sitting and collecting dust on Chuck Schumer's desk,” he added. “It is not the House’s issue right now. The issue is with the White House and the Senate, and I implore them to do their job because the time is urgent.”

He did not take any questions from reporters following the roughly 30-minute meeting with Zelensky, which was their first one-on-one meeting. 

12:01 p.m. ET, December 12, 2023

McConnell: Ukraine needs aid — but US should make it a part of a larger border security policy package

From CNN's Kristin Wilson

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks on Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks on Tuesday. Senate TV

In his own floor remarks following a nearly 90-minute meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in the need for urgent funding for Ukraine, but still insisted that it be part of a larger package that includes border security policy changes. McConnell said he’s “going to work to get it done as long as it takes.” 

“I've been a staunch supporter of Ukraine's fight to take back its land, liberate its people and restore its support, restore its sovereignty since the beginning of Russia's invasion, way back in 2014," he said. "Our Ukrainian friends' cause is just, and if the West continues to stand with them, they can win.”

But McConnell stood firm that without changes in border policy as part of a supplemental package, the financial support will not come. 

“We know the threats we face are intertwined — that Russia and China and North Korea work together to undermine America and the West. We know that our border, just like Ukraine's borders and Israel's and Taiwan’s, must be inviolable. That's why for months now, we've supported supplemental action on all four of the most pressing national security challenges we face,” he said.

“My support for Ukraine and Israel is rock solid. I'm committed to preparing the US military to deter and defend against Chinese aggression. I'm determined to get the national security crisis at the southern border under control, and I'm going to work to get it done as long as it takes,” he said.

1:31 p.m. ET, December 13, 2023

Zelensky avoided immigration debate with senators and laid out strategic needs of Ukraine in meeting

From CNN's Lauren Fox

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, left, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, center, walk to a meeting at the Capitol on Tuesday.
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, left, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, center, walk to a meeting at the Capitol on Tuesday. Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Senators emerging from the briefing with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he did not offer suggestions or push back against calls for border security in the United States, carefully avoiding wading into what has become a major domestic policy sticking point in the US. Instead, Zelensky focused on laying out why US aid was so essential for Ukraine.

Here's what Republican senators are saying:

Sen. Lindsey Graham: Graham said he made it clear to Zelensky that the holdup on Ukraine aid had nothing to do with Zelensky not underscoring the importance of the aid, but instead with the thorny border issue. 

“I told President Zelensky my number one obligation is to secure my country as well as help yours, and I feel like my country’s border policies are an immediate threat to the safety of the American people,” he told reporters. “I said, 'You’ve done anything that anybody could ask of you. This is not your problem here.'"

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to reporters after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's meeting with US Senators at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to reporters after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's meeting with US Senators at the Capitol on Tuesday. Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Sen. Mike Rounds: Rounds said Zelensky "stayed totally away from" the immigration debate, "as he should have.”

“He was there to explain their need, what their plans were, what their objectives were and assure ... us there would be no acceptance of corruption in the deployment of any of the U.S. resources made available,” Rounds said, adding Zelensky went into details on the challenges in reclaiming the southern area of Ukraine from Russia and that his country was “very, very short of the needed air defense systems.”

Sen. Markwayne Mullin said Zelensky kept the discussion at "a high level," adding that the Ukrainian president "was very respectful." Mullin said he supports aid to Ukraine but wants it tied to tougher border policies.

Sen. Ron Johnson said Zelensky warned that his country would not give up fighting if support eroded and argued the fight would devolve into guerrilla warfare. 

Meanwhile in the House chamber, Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a Republican from Massachusetts, said on CNN Max he believes it is Trump who sapped GOP support for Ukraine aid.

"The real problem Republicans have is that Donald Trump is a Putin sympathizer and he has unfortunately galvanized the MAGA base against Ukraine. So when Republicans talk about auditing and inspection and fiduciary responsibility, when they talk about nothing for Ukraine without the southern border, what they're really saying is we don't want Donald Trump to tweet something mean about it," he told CNN's Jim Sciutto.

CNN's Jim Sciutto contributed reporting to this post.

10:58 a.m. ET, December 12, 2023

Speaker Johnson says his approach to Ukraine aid has not changed ahead of Zelensky meeting

From CNN's Annie Grayer

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson leaves a meeting with Republican House members in the Capitol on Monday.
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson leaves a meeting with Republican House members in the Capitol on Monday. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

House Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters “not at all” when asked if there had been any changes to his approach on aid to Ukraine, ahead of his first one-on-one meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Johnson has said that any future aid to Ukraine should also include border security and should be voted on separately from aid to Israel, which has led to an impasse with the Democrat-controlled Senate.

10:49 a.m. ET, December 12, 2023

US imposes sanctions on more than 250 targets for supporting Russia's war in Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

President Joe Biden's administration slapped sanctions on more than 250 people and companies for supporting Russia's war in Ukraine.

The US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on more than 150 targets connected to Russia's military industrial base. At the same time, the US State Department went after more than 100 targets accused of sanctions evasion "and bolstering Russia’s future energy production and export capacity," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The new rounds of sanctions target companies and people based in third countries, including Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and China.

They were announced following a virtual meeting of the G7 leaders last week, and as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is in Washington, DC, to push Congress to pass additional funding to support Kyiv.

"The United States and its allies and partners are united in our continued support of Ukraine in the face of Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified, and illegal war," Blinken said in his statement Tuesday. "We will continue to use the tools at our disposal to promote accountability for Russia’s crimes in Ukraine and those who finance and support Russia’s war machine."

11:27 a.m. ET, December 12, 2023

Zelensky addressed concerns about corruption in Ukraine during all-senators meeting

From CNN's Ted Barrett

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is escorted by Sen. Mitch McConnell, left, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, right, inside the Capitol on Tuesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is escorted by Sen. Mitch McConnell, left, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, right, inside the Capitol on Tuesday. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky worked to dissuade senators that corruption remains a significant problem in his country and is a reason for them not to provide US funds to Ukraine, according to two senators who attended the meeting.

“I think the notion of corruption came up because some have said we can’t do it, because people will buy yachts with the money. He disabused people of those notions with the reforms that he’s made out the (International Monetary Fund) and (European Union). There have been substantial reforms,” North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis said.

Zelensky tried to assure senators that no money would be used corruptly in Ukraine, according to South Dakota GOP Sen. Mike Rounds, adding that the Ukrainian president did not give a price tag on how much US support will be needed in total for Ukraine. But he tried to impress upon senators that Ukraine needed more air defense systems quickly to shut off a land bridge into Crimea.

Tillis also said Zelensky was warmly received and spent his time trying to persuade senators to provide more funding and did not press them about the political standoff in Washington, DC, about whether to add border policy changes to the funding bill for Ukraine. 

11:35 a.m. ET, December 12, 2023

Zelensky's meeting with lawmakers was "very powerful," Schumer says

From CNN's Aditi Sangal and Kristin Wilson

Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks to the press after an all-senators meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Sen. Chuck Schumer speaks to the press after an all-senators meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Capitol on Tuesday. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday was "very powerful."

Zelensky "outlined in great detail" what Ukraine needs and how the United States can assist the country in defending itself against Russia, Schumer said.

"If he gets the help he needs, he will win," Schumer said. "If we lose, Putin wins, and this is very, very dangerous for the United States."

Zelensky also said Ukraine needs the aid quickly, according to the Democratic senator from New York.

Before Schumer made extended remarks, Schumer, McConnell and Zelensky walked by reporters, and Schumer said it was a “very good and productive meeting,” but the trio kept walking and did not say anything else. Schumer then returned to speak with reporters.

Schumer later added, “If Ukraine falls, it will be a historic and colossal tragedy. If Russia is victorious, future generations will remember this as a moment of shame for the west, for the United States, and for those in the Senate who sought to block it.”

He said Democrats were willing to “meet in the middle” with Republicans on border security reform, but that the House-passed border bill was not an option.

“It is not a time for one side to demand maximalist fringe policies that they know are unrealistic and then say ‘our way or the highway.’ If Republican colleagues want in agreement on the border, they must meet us at the middle. They need to show us they are serious. So far, when they just asked for HR2 two or something like it, they're not showing seriousness,” he said.

Schumer said he spoke on the phone with House Speaker Mike Johnson Monday night, urging him to keep the House in town while negotiators work on a comprehensive package, even though any kind of deal does not seem imminent.  

“If Republicans are serious about getting something done on the border, then why are so many of them in such a hurry to leave for the winter break?” he said. “Has the border simply been an excuse to kill funding for Ukraine by Republicans being unwilling to budge on HR2 and getting ready to rush out of town?” 

“Unfortunately, it may seem the case that these are both excuses and they really want to kill funding for Ukraine and never had any intention of passing it,” Schumer said. 

10:27 a.m. ET, December 12, 2023

Ukraine's ammunition supply has dwindled, member of parliament says

From CNN's Clare Sebastian

 

Oleksandra Ustinova speaks with CNN.
Oleksandra Ustinova speaks with CNN. CNN

A Ukrainian member of parliament says she is concerned that the world does not understand that a lack of ammunition and aid is leading to a precarious situation for Ukraine.

“I think there is a perception around the world that no matter how much you help or don't help, Ukraine, Ukrainians are going to win,” Oleksandra Ustinova, also the chair of a temporary special commission set up to handle the flow of military aid into the country, told CNN.

But while Ukraine has managed to survive beyond initial global expectations, Ustinova says the aid deliveries have dwindled and fundamentally changed the landscape for Ukraine.

“We used to shoot 5- (to) 6,000 rounds per day. Russia used to shoot 30 to 40 (thousand). So it was five to eight times more than we could. Right now, we cannot even do 5-6,000 ... because there is no ammunition,” she said, adding that in the current scenario, Ukraine can only defend — not launch counteroffensives.

Ustinova added that air defense is a critical concern amid signs Russia is already stepping up aerial attacks. Over the past five days, Ukraine has managed to intercept two major missile barrages, both targeting the capital Kyiv, ending what the head of that city’s military administration described as a 79-day pause.  

“The number one priority for Ukraine is the air defense munition, the air defense systems, because so far we have only Kyiv covered — and not totally covered, all the other cities are totally empty,” she said, adding that air defense munitions have also been in short supply since before the winter.

“Kyiv can be turned into the second Mariupol and totally erased. …We're waiting for a massive attack of hundreds of drones then following the hundreds of missiles, and if there is nothing to put them down with, that's it. We're done,” she added.