Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, made an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Friday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky, whom he praised for demonstrating “the determination it takes to survive a war and ultimately win it.”
Mr. Christie is the second 2024 GOP hope to visit Mr. Zelensky in Kiev, signaling his support for Ukraine in a war that has divided Republican candidates and voters. Former Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Ukraine in June.
Escorted by a Ukrainian security detail, Mr. Christie sites near Kiev that were destroyed during Russia’s drive toward the Ukrainian capital in the first months of the invasion, including Bucha, a Kyiv suburb where Russian soldiers massacred more than 400 people last April.
“There are hundreds of millions of people in our country who support you,” Mr Christie told local officials in Moshchun, a village northwest of Kiev, during a visit to a memorial overlooking a trench used by Ukrainian soldiers during a battle in March. last year.
The United States has provided Ukraine with billions of dollars in military and security aid since Russia’s invasion more than a year ago, with President Biden often framing the extraordinary level of support as part of an existential struggle for democracy against authoritarian aggression as well as being decisive to national security interests.
A majority of Americans continue to approve of US aid to Ukraine in the conflict, but this support has softened over time, largely due to growing Republican opposition. The percentage of Republicans who say the U.S. is providing “too much” aid to Ukraine has grown to 44 percent from 9 percent since the Russian invasion in February 2022, according to vote by the Pew Research Center.
That shift has been led by former President Donald Trump, whose first impeachment trial resulted from his 2019 phone call to Mr. Zelensky, who pressed him to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals after freezing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine. Mr. Mr Trump, who maintained he did not pressure Mr Zelensky, has said the defense of Ukraine is not a vital US national interest.
In a CNN Town Hall in May he refused to say whether he would continue President Biden’s policy of supplying arms and ammunition to Ukraine if he returned to the White House, or whether he supported Mr. Zelensky or Russian President Vladimir Putin in the conflict.
“I want everyone to stop dying,” said Mr. Trump.
Mr. Christie said that in his meeting with Mr. Zelensky, who was closed to reporters, “spoke to the Ukrainian president about his desire for bipartisan support for Ukraine.” He said the subject of Mr Trump did not come up.
“There was no conversation from him about the race I’m in,” said Mr. Christie. He said Mr Zelensky told him: “Whoever the next president is, I need that person to feel a partnership with Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s politics is an area where Mr. Christie, a 2016 Trump rival turned Trump adviser and now Trump critic, has sought to draw a sharp contrast between himself and the former president, calling Mr. trump a”Putin’s puppet” mocking his recent claim that he could negotiate “in one day” a truce between Mr. Zelensky and the Russian leader.
“Move over Churchill, Trump is here to save the day,” Mr. Christie tweeted last month.
“I think he really likes strong men,” said Mr. Christie late Thursday about Mr. Trump in an interview on board a train to Kiev. “I think those are his role models in terms of the way he would like to control power if left to his own devices.”
Christie also criticized the Biden administration for not doing more to support the Ukrainian war effort, particularly its delays in supplying Mr. Zelensky’s government with F-16 fighter jets, which Mr. Biden had resisted doing for a year before approving the move in May. “I would have sent them months ago,” said Mr. Christie. He also advocates NATO membership for Ukraine.
A New York Times/Siena poll this week showed Mr. Christie lagging far behind Mr. Trump, who remains the overwhelming favorite in the race, with the support of 54 percent of likely Republican primary voters.
“I wish you political luck,” Anatolii Fedoruk, Bucha’s mayor, told Mr. Christie during his visit to the city.
“We all hope so, don’t we?” Mr. Christie replied patting him on the back.