Ky lawmakers on Ukraine as Zelenskyy pleads for more US help in speech to Congress

Zelenskyy shares plea to Congress to send more help for Ukraine’s fight against Russia

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy summoned the memory of Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11 terror attacks Wednesday in an impassioned video plea to Congress to send more help for Ukraine’s fight against Russia. Lawmakers stood and cheered, and President Joe Biden later announced the U.S. is sending more anti-aircraft, anti-armor weapons and drones.

Biden also declared Russian President Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, the day after the Senate unanimously asked an international investigation of Putin for war crimes in Ukraine.

In a moment of high drama at the Capitol, Zelenskyy livestreamed his speech to a rapt audience of lawmakers on a giant screen, acknowledging from the start that the no-fly zone he has repeatedly sought to “close the sky” to airstrikes on his country may not happen. Biden has resisted that, as well as approval for the U.S. or NATO to send MiG fighter jets from Poland as risking wider war with nuclear-armed Putin.

Instead, Zelenskyy pleaded for other military aid and more drastic economic sanctions to stop the Russian assault with the fate of his country at stake.

Wearing his now trademark army green T-shirt, Zelinskyy began the remarks to “Americans, friends” by invoking the destruction the U.S. suffered in 1941 when Japan bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by militants who commandeered passenger airplanes to crash into the symbols of Western democracy and economy.

“Remember Pearl Harbor? … Remember September 11?” Zelenzkyy asked. “Our countries experience the same every day right now.”

Biden, who said he listened to Zelenskyy’s speech at the White House, did not directly respond the the criticism that the U.S. should be doing more for the Ukrainians. But he said, “We are united in our abhorrence of Putin’s depraved onslaught, and we’re going to continue to have their backs as they fight for their freedom, their democracy, their very survival.”

Later, leaving an unrelated event, he declared of Putin: “He’s a war criminal.” — the sharpest condemnation yet of Putin and Russian actions by a U.S. official since the invasion of Ukraine.

While other world leaders have used the words, the White House had been hesitant, saying it was a legal term that required research.

Biden noted that Russia had bombed hospitals and held doctors hostage.

At the White Hose, Biden described new help he was already prepared to announce before Zelenskyy’s speech. He said the U.S. will be sending an additional $800 million in military assistance, making a total of $2 billion in such aid ince he took office more than a year ago. About $1 billion in aid has been sent in the past week. Biden said the new assistance includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 100 grenade launchers, 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launchers and mortar rounds and an unspecified number of drones.

“We’re going to give Ukraine the arms to fight and defend themselves through all the difficult days ahead,” Biden said.

Zelenskyy, in his Capitol livestream from Kyiv, showed the packed auditorium of lawmakers a graphic video of the destruction and devastation his country has suffered in the war, along with heartbreaking scenes of civilian casualties.

“We need you right now,” Zelenskyy said. “I call on you to do more.”

Lawmakers gave him a standing ovation, before and after his short remarks, which Zelenskyy began in Ukrainian through an interpreter but then switched to English in a heartfelt appeal to help end the bloodshed.

“I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths,” he said.

Nearing the three-week mark in an ever-escalating war, Zelenskyy has used the global stage to implore allied leaders to help stop the Russian invasion of his country. The young actor-turned-president often draws from history, giving weight to what have become powerful appearances.

The White House has been weighing giving Ukraine access to U.S.-made Switchblade drones that can fly and strike Russian targets, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly. It was not immediately clear if the new drones that Biden said would be delivered to Ukraine include the Switchblades.

Zelenskyy has emerged as a heroic figure at the center of what many view as the biggest security threat to Europe since World War II. Almost 3 million refugees have fled Ukraine, the fastest exodus in modern times.

Sen. Angus King, the Maine independent. said there was a “collective holding of the breath” in the room during Zelenskyy’s address. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said, “If you did not look at that video and feel there is an obligation for not only the United States but but the free countries of the world to come together in support of Ukraine, you had your eyes closed.” Majority Whip Dick Durbin called the address heartbreaking and said, “I’m on board with a blank check on sanctions, just whatever we can do to stop this Russian advance.”

Outside the Capitol demonstrators held a large sign lawmakers saw as they walked back to their offices. “No Fly Zone=World War 3.”

The Ukrainian president is no stranger to Congress, having played a central role in Donald Trump’s first impeachment. As president, Trump was accused of withholding security aid to Ukraine as he pressured Zelenskyy to dig up dirt on political rival Biden. Zelenskyy spoke Wednesday from a giant screen to many of the same Republican lawmakers who declined to impeach or convict Trump, but are among the bipartisan groundswell in Congress now clamoring for military aid to Ukraine.

He thanked the American people, saying Ukraine is grateful for the outpouring of support, even as he urged Biden to do more.

“You are the leader of the nation. I wish you be the leader of the world,” he said “Being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace.”

Members of Congress applaud as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a virtual address to Congress by video at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. (Sarah Silbiger, Pool via AP)
Members of Congress applaud as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a virtual address to Congress at the Capitol in Washington. (Sarah Silbiger, Pool via AP)

It was the latest visit as Zelenskky uses the West’s great legislative bodies in his appeals for help, invoking Shakespeare’s Hamlet last week at the British House of Commons asking whether Ukraine is “to be or not to be” and appealing Tuesday to “Dear Justin” as he addressed the Canadian Parliament and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He often pushes for more help to save his young democracy than world leaders have so far pledged to provide.

Biden has insisted there will be no U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine.

“Direct conflict between NATO and Russia is World War III,” he has said.

Zelenskyy appeared to acknowledge the political reality.

“Is this to too much to ask to create a no fly zone over Ukraine?” he asked, answering his own question. “If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative,” he said, calling for weapons systems that would help fight Russian aircraft.

Already the Biden administration has sent Ukraine more than 600 Stinger missiles, 2,600 Javelin anti-armor systems, unmanned aerial system tracking radars, grenade launchers, 200 shotguns, 200 machine guns and nearly 40 million rounds of small arms ammunition, along with helicopters, patrol boats, satellite imagery and body armor, helmets, and other tactical gear, the U.S. official said.

Congress has already approved $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, and the newly announced security aid will come from that allotment, which is part of a broader bill that Biden signed into law Tuesday.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WTVQ/PRESS RELEASE) – U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding Ukraine:

“This morning, members of Congress received an update on the situation in Ukraine directly from President Zelensky.

“His presentation was powerful and heart-wrenching. It reinforced our sympathy, our outrage, and our resolve.

“President Zelensky’s courage and leadership have earned the attention and admiration of the entire free world.

“He has marshaled Ukraine’s brave and defiant resistance against Russian invasion. He has steeled the resolve of his people beyond what anybody expected and offered the entire world a masterclass in leadership.

“This morning, President Zelensky didn’t mince words about what Ukraine needs – urgently – to keep up the fight: more lethal capabilities and heavier sanctions against Russia. And especially the air defense systems that we should have helped Ukraine get weeks ago.

“His people face a long and difficult road ahead. And the entire world knows what they’re up against. The scale of Russia’s aggression wasn’t just foreseeable. It was foreseen.

“For 30 years, every step toward democracy and sovereignty in eastern Europe has tempted the wrath of revanchist autocrats like Putin.

“That’s why I’ve asked the Biden Administration – early and often – to demonstrate America’s commitment to our allies and partners most squarely in Russia’s crosshairs.

“Last June, eight months before the Russian invasion began, I urged the President to ‘provide serious, lethal support to Ukraine and other vulnerable states on the front lines of Putin’s aggression.’

“In December, I specifically called on President Biden to deploy extra U.S. forces to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank.

“I urged his Administration to expedite and expand shipments of lethal aid like anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons.

“But as we know, a security assistance package for Ukraine sat at the White House for months before being approved. Once approved, efforts to transfer the weapons moved at the speed of bureaucracy.

“And the President waited until February to order U.S. personnel to the front lines.

“The Biden Administration had over a year to get this right.

“They had a year to translate rhetorical support for NATO into leading real collective defense. But they took five months to even nominate an Ambassador to the Alliance.

“On the campaign trail, President Biden called Putin a ‘KGB thug’.

“But after one week in office, he announced an agreement with the Kremlin to extend the New START treaty for 5 years, reducing our leverage to get a better deal that caps Putin’s nuclear ambitions.

“As the threats to Ukraine gathered, whenever an opportunity to act has presented itself, the Biden Administration has hesitated until the political pressure became overwhelming or balked outright.

“Since Russia’s invasion began, the Administration has publicly shot down efforts from a NATO ally to get working aircraft to Ukrainian pilots. And last Monday, the White House scuttled a bipartisan Congressional bill to end normal trade relations with Russia only to make a public show on Friday of calling for the exact same action.

“At every step of the way, the self-deterred White House has insisted its hesitation and restraint was aimed at avoiding escalation. But at every step Putin has escalated.

“Now, three weeks into Putin’s invasion, the reality on the ground is evolving. It is harder now than it would have been a few months ago to keep the pipeline of weapons, supplies, and intelligence for Ukraine’s brave resistance open. Russia’s air offensive in particular is hitting a deadlier, more aggressive stride.

“But as I’ve been saying for months, it’s not too late for the Biden Administration to do the right thing. Here is what President Biden should be doing right now.

“One: He should use the money and authorities we’ve just provided him to expand the scope of our lethal aid to Ukraine to include more effective, longer-range air defense capabilities.

“That means working with NATO allies with urgency to get Ukrainian pilots more aircraft and munitions, and facilitating the transfer of weapons Ukraine’s forces are most familiar with, like air defense systems from countries with stockpiles of Soviet legacy systems. President Zelensky specifically pleaded for these air defense systems this morning.

“Two: President Biden should deploy more U.S. forces to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, and use the new drawdown and loan guarantee authorities to help harden the defenses of our frontline allies and partners.

“Many of these partners are generously helping Ukraine, and we should help them backfill their inventories with more modern, American capabilities that will improve NATO’s interoperability and bolster deterrence.

“Three: On his trip to Europe next week, President Biden should go beyond Brussels. He should go to countries like Poland, Romania, or Lithuania to meet with NATO eastern flank allies. And he should look beyond NATO to deepen our diplomatic and security cooperation with important American partners like Finland and Sweden.

“And finally: If President Biden wants the United States to lead our allies by example and keep pace with adversaries like Russia and China, the place to start is with robust investments in our own defense capabilities. The coming year’s appropriations process is an opportunity to finally show we’re serious.

“Vladimir Putin has proven to the world that he is willing to stoop low in pursuit of power. And he has shown us exactly how he responds to weakness.

“We cannot afford to stay behind the curve. America must lead, and lead with strength.

“A few minutes ago President Zelensky reminded us that the United States is the leader of the free world.

“So it’s time we acted like it.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) released the following statement after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the United States Congress today via video conference:

“Our hearts are heavier today after hearing President Zelenskyy’s plea for help in his war-torn country. His video of the chilling, deadly destruction taking place in Ukraine served as a grave reminder of the unwarranted barbaric terror that Vladimir Putin has unleashed from Russia on his peaceful neighbors. Last week, Congress approved $13.6 billion in emergency funding to support Ukraine’s military and humanitarian aid, but it is clear that President Biden needs to do more to support Ukraine’s air defense, and to unequivocally display America’s power as a peace broker and defender of democracy.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Brett Guthrie (KY-02) released the following statement after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to Congress.

“This morning I listened to President Zelenskyy’s powerful speech strongly urging for more aid for Ukraine to fight back against Putin’s unprovoked invasion. President Zelenskyy evoked our emotions from the attack on Pearl Harbor and 9/11 to try give the American people a better perspective of the terrors his people are experiencing every day. The United States is the leader of the free world, and we need to do everything we can short of putting American men and women in harm’s way to help the Ukrainian people prevail against Russia. This includes providing the Ukrainian people with more weapon systems and aircraft to help them enforce their own no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace.

“Putin’s war machine is based on his ability to fund it. We need to answer President Zelenskyy’s call for more Russian sanctions. We also need to unleash American energy in the U.S. and around the world to lower prices for Americans and diminish Putin’s profits from energy sales. I’m calling on President Biden to put together a herculean private-public partnership, similar to the effort of President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed, to address this energy crisis. Depending on ruthless dictators and adversaries for our energy needs is not the answer. I’m also calling on Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee to hold a hearing on the energy crisis. I’m very confident that if Republicans had control of the committee agenda, this would have already been addressed,” said Guthrie.

Guthrie is a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and serves as a member of the U.S. delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

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