Chris Christie tells Volodymyr Zelensky he wants to be America’s ‘eyes’ in surprise Kyiv visit

Former New Jersey governor becomes second Republican 2024 candidate to make trip as issue divides primary field

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Friday 04 August 2023 13:37 EDT
Christie tells Zelenskyy Americans are “visual people” & need to see “in order to feel”: “I want to be their eyes

Republican presidential candidate and fierce Trump critic Chris Christie has made a surprise visit to Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The former New Jersey governor arrived in Kyiv on Friday, becoming the second contender for the GOP nomination to make the trip after former Vice President Mike Pence in June.

In a meeting with President Zelensky, Mr Christie said he wanted to be the eyes of the American people and show them the situation in Ukraine, more than 18 months after Russia began its war on the country.

“We have become a visual people. Reading something doesn’t do it anymore. For a lot of Americans, they need to see it in order to feel it and understand it. I want to be able to be their eyes here,” said Mr Christie.

He also told Mr Zelensky that he wanted more bipartisan support for Ukraine from US lawmakers, The New York Times reported of the closed-door meeting between the two.

The former governor visited areas of devastation in the vicinity of the capital city, including the suburb of Bucha where advancing Russian troops massacred more than 400 people in April 2022.

“I feel the cruelty, and you feel the inhumanity,” Mr Christie said. “And you look at this, and I don’t think there’s anyone in our country who would come here and see this and not feel as if these are the things that America needs to stand up to prevent.”

“I really suspected that if I saw this in person that it would arm me to be a better advocate for support, I think, from the stuff I saw today just now, and the meeting with the president ... I think I’m much better off,” he noted after his meeting with Mr Zelensky.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meets former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

While President Joe Biden’s administration has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, framing it as a battle for democracy, the issue has divided the Republican Party’s 2024 primary field.

Mr Christie and Mr Pence, as well as former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, align with the traditional conservative stance of seeing the US as taking the lead in global affairs and standing shoulder to shoulder with its allies.

However, the two frontrunners, former president Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis argue that the war is not in the interests of the US with the former claiming he could end it within 24 hours (amid accusations of caving to Russian interests), and the latter belittling the conflict — the largest in Europe since the Second World War —  as a “territorial dispute”.

Chris Christie visits a wall of rememberance to victims of Russia’s war on Ukraine

Mr Trump’s first impeachment was over a 2019 phone call to Mr Zelensky pressuring him to investigate the then-president’s political rival Joe Biden after he froze hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine.

The former president continues to deny that this happened on what he describes as a “perfect” phone call with the Ukrainian president. The Senate found him not guilty in his early 2020 impeachment trial.

Mr Trump refused to say whether he would keep up the level of aid from the US to Ukraine were he to be re-elected during a CNN town hall in May or even if he supported Mr Zelenksy or Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Christie has called the former president a “puppet of Putin” and when Mr Trump claimed he could end the war in 24 hours, sarcastically tweeted “Move over Churchill, Trump is here to save the day.”

The former president’s current attitude toward the war and belittling of the Nato alliance and its role in counterbalancing Russia during his time in office stands in complete opposition to the Biden administration’s role in uniting European allies in massive financial and military support of Ukraine.

Pro-Ukraine Republicans nevertheless argue that Mr Biden is not doing enough to support the Ukrainian war effort.

After his meeting with Mr Zelensky, Mr Christie said: “He was very complimentary of President Biden, some of the things that he’s advocated for, but also made clear that he thought there was more that needed to be done.”

“There was no conversation at all from him about, you know, the race that I’m in,” the former governor added.

With reporting by The Associated Press

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