"No conspiracy": Belarusian President Lukashenko dismisses speculation over military exercises
By CNN's Jack Guy and Olga Voitovych
The recent movement of Belarusian armed forces is not part of a plan to get involved in Russia's war in Ukraine, President Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday.
"We have been having and are having exercises. Now they are more extensive because of the current situation and threats. Therefore, we are conducting exercises on our territory," said Lukashenko, according to a statement published on his official website.
"That's it. No other intent, no conspiracy," he added.
This sparked speculation that Putin might try to convince Lukashenko to help him in the war against Ukraine. Belarus shares a 674-mile border with Ukraine.
Belarusian territory was used as a platform by Russian troops during the invasion in February, but the country's troops have so far not taken part in the conflict.
Recent troop movements were a response to increased tensions, said Lukashenko.
"We cannot rule out that aggression may be deployed against our country," he said. "At least, we see such a readiness on the part of our neighbors."
7:24 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022
Biden administration says Zelensky "made a very compelling case"
From CNN's Jeremy Diamond
The White House believes President Zelensky made a "very compelling" case to the American public and to lawmakers about the need for sustained US aid to Ukraine, a senior White House official said.
As the White House prepares for Republicans — some of whom have cast doubt on the future of aid to Ukraine — to take over the House, the official said the White House believes Zelensky's speech helped make the case.
"We think he made a compelling case to lawmakers and to the American people about the sacrifices that Ukraine has been and continues to make," a senior White House official said. "We believe he made a very compelling case for the reason why support has been so critical in the past and how he believes that support."
While the speech may help the White House in Ukraine funding fights to come, the official said Zelensky didn't seek help from the White House for his remarks.
"This was all him," the official said.
Zelensky, of course, went further than the White House in his appeals for more aid — making clear in a joking-not-joking tone at both the White House and to Congress that current aid levels are still not enough.
That was no surprise to the White House, which expected Zelensky was "going to ask for more." The surprise would have been if he had not.
Just as he did in response to a question by CNN's Phil Mattingly, Biden has made clear to officials following his meeting with Zelensky how beneficial it was for him to meet with the Ukrainian leader in person.
The senior official said Biden "really enjoyed his time with Zelensky" and found him to be "energetic" and dedicated.
7:37 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022
"I really had tears in my eyes": Ukrainians react to Zelensky's historic visit to Washington DC
From CNN's Jack Guy, Svitlana Vlasova and Olga Voitovych
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Washington DC on Wednesday and made a historic speech from the US Capitol, expressing gratitude for American support in fighting Russian aggression since the war began — and asking for more.
CNN spoke to members of the public throughout Ukraine to gauge their reaction to Zelensky's visit and the way he was received by US lawmakers.
Mariya Hrachova, marketing director, Kyiv
Hrachova told CNN that she is always moved by Zelensky's speeches, and Wednesday was no different.
"When he spoke to the House of Representatives, the way he looked, he didn't wear a suit, he was himself," she said. "He spoke the truth, he said what he wanted, what he had to say, I admire that."
His reception was "very touching," said Hrachova, who underlined the effectiveness of the visit in "bringing back weapons and hundreds of millions of dollars in aid," even if more will be needed in future.
"We understand that will need to increase," said Hrachova. "I know that there are various views in the American establishment about the situation in Ukraine and US support for Ukraine, but we hope that the majority in the government and in the Congress will support us."
Tetyana Vasylivna, fruit seller, Kyiv
Vasylivna, who is originally from Kherson, also hailed Zelensky's visit to Washington.
"It seems to me that this visit will bring the end of the war closer," she said. "I think this trip will help us to get victory."
"I really had tears in my eyes when I see in such a good way he (Zelensky) was welcomed," she said. "He is doing a great job as a president, really great, I have no other words to describe him."
Oleksandr Kuzmenko, computer graphics, Kyiv
Kuzmenko also lent his support to Zelensky, saying that it was important that US lawmakers heard about the situation on the ground directly from the Ukrainian president, rather than from a third party.
"I'd say he put it across very well, both in terms of messaging and choreography," he said. "It was a good way to emphasize all the points and ask for weapons."
Kuzmenko said that he supports Zelensky's key messages, and believes the Russian invasion has shown the shortcomings of existing world institutions.
"The current world security architecture is ineffective, and we are the reason it needs to be rebuilt, because of our sacrifice," he said.
"If we let it pass, it won't be us having to sort ... out this mess, it will be for our children and grandchildren," added Kuzmenko.
Оleksandr Solonko, Ukrainian serviceman, near Bakhmut
While Solonko didn't manage to watch Zelensky's speech in Washington, he believes that the visit is a positive.
"Such visits do not happen by chance. For us, this is an indicator of the commitment of the United States and that we will continue to be supported," he said.
"We, the military, are doing our job and expect our government to make progress towards obtaining the necessary weapons and other means to help us drive the occupiers from our land."
It is also part of "the symbolic war," said Solonko.
"What will happen behind the scenes of the visit, apart from military cooperation and economic support, is also interesting," he said. "There are probably many more issues that need to be discussed between the representatives of our countries."
6:51 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022
Kremlin says neither Biden nor Zelensky showed "potential willingness to listen to Russia's concerns" during US visit
From CNN's Anna Chernova and Niamh Kennedy
Neither US President Joe Biden nor his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky showed "a potential willingness to listen to Russia's concerns" during Zelensky's historic visit to the United States on Wednesday, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
"So far, we can state with regret the fact that neither Biden nor Zelensky has spoken any words that can be perceived as a potential willingness to listen to Russia's concerns," Peskov said Thursday.
At no point was Zelensky issued with a warning "against continuing the barbaric shelling of residential buildings in the settlements of Donbas," said Peskov. Donbas blankets much of eastern Ukraine, and has been the front line of the country’s conflict with Moscow since 2014.
Peskov added that "there were no real calls for peace." But during his address to the US Congress on Wednesday, Zelensky did stress that "we need peace," reiterating the 10-point plan for peace devised by Ukraine.
He also called on US lawmakers to "strengthen sanctions" against Russia to make the country "feel how ruinous its aggression truly is."
Peskov told journalists, however, that Wednesday's meeting showed the US is continuing to wage a proxy war of "indirect fighting" against Russia down "to the last Ukrainian."
10:37 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022
Kremlin says US supplying Patriot systems to Ukraine will prolong people’s "suffering"
From CNN’s Anna Chernova
The US supplying Ukraine with Patriot missile systems will prolong the Ukrainian people's "suffering," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday.
"We see that, in fact, the United States and other countries are following the path of constantly expanding the range and raising the technical level of the weapons that they supply to Ukraine," Peskov said during a conference call. "This does not contribute to a speedy settlement of the situation, on the contrary."
Peskov went on to say this will not prevent Russia from achieving its goals in Ukraine.
"This leads to the fact that, unfortunately, the suffering of the Ukrainian people will continue longer than it could have," he added.
On Tuesday, the US announced a new aid package to Ukraine, which included the "first-ever transfer to Ukraine of the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, capable of bringing down cruise missiles, short-range ballistic missiles, and aircraft at a significantly higher ceiling than previously provided air defense systems."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday that the Patriot air defense missile systems would be a "very important step" to creating secure airspace.
5:21 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022
"The collective West is set for a long confrontation with Russia," says Russian foreign ministry
From CNN's Anna Chernova
The West supplying Ukraine with military support and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington further demonstrates that "the collective West is set for a long confrontation with Russia," said a spokeswoman for Russia's foreign ministry.
Maria Zakharova went on to talk about the "monstrous crimes" of the "regime in Kyiv," adding that no matter how much the West helps arm the Ukrainian government, "they will achieve nothing."
"As the leadership of our country has stated, the tasks set within the framework of the special military operation will be fulfilled, taking into account the situation on the ground and the actual realities," Zakharova added, referring to Russia's war in Ukraine, which it calls a special operation.
Her comments came after Zelensky delivered a historic speech from the US Capitol, expressing gratitude for American support in fighting Russian aggression since the war began — and asking for more.
5:09 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022
Putin congratulates Israel's Netanyahu on forming government and discusses Ukraine
From CNN's Hadas Gold in Jerusalem
Russian President Vladimir Putin called Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to congratulate him on the formation of a new government and to discuss the situations in Ukraine and Iran, according to a statement from Netanyahu's office.
"The two leaders discussed a number of issues, chief among them the war in Ukraine," the statement said.
"Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu told President Putin that he hopes a way will be found as soon as possible to end the war and the suffering caused by it."
"Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu told President Putin that he is determined to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and to curb its attempts to establish a military base on our northern border," Netanyahu's office added.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu officially informed Israeli President Isaac Herzog that he had successfully formed a government.
Netanyahu, who had already served as prime minister for 15 years until being ousted last year, had until midnight local time (5 p.m. ET) Wednesday to form the government following elections on November 1.
In what was a last minute announcement, Netanyahu tweeted 10 minutes before the deadline expired: “I have managed.”
1:39 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022
Russian ambassador warns of Ukraine war escalation after Zelensky's US visit
From CNN’s Mayumi Maruyama and Sophie Jeong
Volodymyr Zelensky's visit to Washington showed that neither the United States nor the Ukrainian president are "ready for peace," Russia's ambassador to the US claimed Wednesday.
His comments came after Zelensky delivered a historic speech from the US Capitol, expressing gratitude for American support in fighting Russian aggression since the war began — and asking for more.
The Biden administration's "conciliatory statements about the lack of intention to start a confrontation with Russia are just empty words," Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said in a statement distributed by the Russian Embassy that decried what he described as Zelensky's "Hollywood-style trip."
"What was essentially announced to applauses and sarcastic smirks, was the need to continue the 'proxy war' against our country," Antonov said. "Till a full victory over us."
Antonov said Biden's announcement came despite Russia warning the US against providing the system to Ukraine. “I think everyone understands perfectly well what fate the personnel, manning these complexes on the territory of Ukraine, can face,” he said.
The Russian ambassador also warned that US involvement in Ukraine could lead to an intensification of the conflict. “The provocative actions by the US are steadily leading to an escalation, the consequences of which cannot even be imagined,” he said.
3:52 a.m. ET, December 22, 2022
Analysis: Zelensky's grit and defiance epitomize the nation he leads
Unbroken, defiant, a civilian forced to don green military garb, the Ukrainian president spent Wednesday in Washington, DC, on his daring first trip out of his country since Russia's brutal, unprovoked invasion in February. He expressed heartfelt gratitude for America's multi-billion dollar weapons and ammunition lifeline — but made clear he'd never stop asking for more.
Appearing with extraordinary symbolism at the White House with President Joe Biden and before a joint meeting of Congress, Zelensky also bore sobering news. A long, bloody battle for freedom, democracy, and ultimately, the survival of a nation Russian President Vladimir Putin says has no right to exist — a fight for which it's still not clear the free world has the stomach — is nowhere near over.
The comic actor-turned-wartime hero effectively put the fate of millions of Ukrainians in the hands of American lawmakers, taxpayers and families at a time when there is growing skepticism among the incoming Republican House majority about the cost of US involvement.
At an emotional peak of his speech in the House chamber, Zelensky handed Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris a Ukrainian flag he retrieved from the hottest battle front at Bakhmut on Tuesday.
"Our heroes ... asked me to bring this flag to you, to the US Congress, to members of the House of Representatives and senators whose decisions can save millions of people," he said. "So, let these decisions be taken. Let this flag stay with you."
Editor's note: This post was adapted from the Dec. 22 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Read the full analysis here or click here to read past editions and subscribe.