The first thing apparent about Ruslan Stefanchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Parliament, is his imposing size.
Dressed in all-black, military-style fatigues, Stefanchuk was a towering figure this week standing next to American officials and lawmakers who barely reached his shoulders.
In his first trip to Washington this past week, Stefanchuk held meetings with the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill as part of a senior Ukrainian delegation advocating for continued American support for Kyiv, and as he put it, “looking the interlocutors in the eyes.”
“I came here to share Ukraine’s successes, and I came to say that Ukraine still needs the support and we can’t stop halfway,” he said in an interview with The Hill, speaking through a translator.
While Stefanchuk gives off the impression of a brick wall, he is a seasoned politician and quick to provide a smile and a handshake. He was elected chair of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament, in October 2021.
“If Stefanchuk is what’s in parliament, I’d hate to go up against the guys on the battlefield!” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Hill.
Ruslan Stefanchuk (center) and senior Ukrainian officials meet with House lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “If Stefanchuk is what’s in parliament, I’d hate to go up against the guys on the battlefield!” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Hill. (Vadym Sarakhan / Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine)
Stefanchuk is first in the line of succession should Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky be unable to serve, which seemed a distinct possibility in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion, when assassins reportedly stalked the streets of Kyiv to kill the president.
Biden officials have said they are supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes to resist Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal of subsuming the country. But Zelensky’s senior aides are facing tough questions in Washington about Ukraine’s military strategy for victory and its use of billions of dollars in advanced, Western-supplied armor and firepower — especially as their generals suggest the war is at a stalemate.
Stefanchuk was in Washington this past week alongside Andriy Yermak, the head of the office of the President of Ukraine, and Ukraine’s Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, among other officials.
“Ukraine is currently preparing a very detailed action plan that includes the timelines and that includes the financial resources to deliver the expected results,” Stefanchuk said, amid warnings from Kyiv that it needs more and better weapons to shift the war.
“We are getting ready to share this plan with our partners,” he added, but he would not provide any more details.
Ruslan Stefanchuk (third from left) meets with Republican senators alongside a senior Ukrainian delegation in Washington, D.C. “I came here to share Ukraine’s successes and I came to say that Ukraine still needs the support and we can’t stop halfway,” Stefanchuk said. (Vadym Sarakhan / Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine)
President Biden’s request for an estimated $60 billion in military and other assistance for Ukraine has stalled on Capitol Hill, with Republicans demanding Democrats deliver on immigration reform before they agree on more aid for Kyiv.
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has drawn a hard line with the White House, saying additional funding for Ukraine is “dependent upon enactment of transformative change to our nation’s border security laws.”
Stefanchuk, commenting on his meeting with Johnson at an event at the Atlantic Council on Thursday, said he is “convinced” the Speaker “will do everything possible to enact the assistance to Ukraine as soon as possible.”
“The meeting with Speaker Johnson was very warm and quite friendly, and I want to thank Speaker Johnson for — we found some common ground in all matters,” he told the Washington-based think tank.
“We spoke about the most challenging questions regarding the assistance to Ukraine, he assured me that the matter of supporting Ukraine is a priority matter for the House of Representatives. I believe it was a very nice meeting.”
Even as a majority of Republican lawmakers support funding for Ukraine, a handful of hard-line conservatives have earlier demonstrated they can freeze House business over their demands. If the Senate is able to hammer out a deal that links aid to Kyiv and border reforms, some Ukraine skeptics in the House have said a border bill would need to be passed first, before Ukraine aid.
In September, Zelensky left a meeting with…