Zelenskyy takes center stage at Congress, pleads for help – Press Enterprise


WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the US Congress, the latest video speech from the actor-turned-war leader as he uses the West’s major legislatures as a global stage to pledge support against Russia’s crushing invasion orchestrate.

The lawmakers rose and gave him a standing ovation as Zelenskyy appeared on the big video screen.

Zelenskyj’s livestream appearance at the US Capitol on Wednesday is part of his very public strategy in which he invoked Winston Churchill, Hamlet and the power of world public opinion in his fight against Russia.

Nearing the three-week mark in an ever-escalating war, Zelenskyy is using his campaign to plead with Allied leaders to “close the skies” to thwart the Russian airstrikes ravaging his country. It has also put Zelenskyy at odds with President Joe Biden, whose administration has balked at imposing a no-fly zone or transferring military jets from neighboring Poland as the US tries to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia.

Instead, Biden will deliver his own speech after Zelenskyy’s speech, in which a White House official said he was set to announce an additional $800 million in security aid to Ukraine. That would bring the total announced last week to $1 billion alone. It includes money for anti-tank and air defense weapons, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Zelenskyy, who appears in his now signature army green T-shirt while appealing to world leaders, has emerged as a heroic figure at the center of what many see as the greatest security threat to Europe since World War II. Nearly 3 million refugees have fled Ukraine, the fastest exodus in modern times.

The President of Ukraine is no stranger to Congress, having played a central role in Donald Trump’s first impeachment. As president, Trump has been accused of withholding security aid from Ukraine when he pressured Zelenskyy to dig dirt on political rival Biden. Zelenskyi is speaking on a giant screen in an auditorium to many of the same Republican lawmakers who have declined to impeach or condemn Trump but are among the bipartisan proponents in Congress now clamoring for military aid to Ukraine.

Last week Zelenskyy referred to Shakespeare’s heroes and asked the British House of Commons whether Ukraine should “be or not be”. On Tuesday, he appealed to “Dear Justin” while addressing Canada’s Parliament and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Zelenskyy urged European Union leaders at the start of the war to do the politically unthinkable and accelerated Ukraine’s membership – and he has continued to push for more help to save his fledgling democracy than the leaders of the world have promised so far.

“I know he will ask for more help,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Biden has insisted that no US troops will be on the ground in Ukraine, defying Zelenskyy’s relentless appeal for warplanes as too risky, potentially leading to a direct confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.

“A direct conflict between NATO and Russia is World War III,” Biden said.

US defense officials say they are puzzled by Zelenskyy’s call for more fighter jets. They say Ukraine doesn’t often fly the planes it has now, while making good use of other weapons the West provides, including Stinger missiles to shoot down helicopters and other aircraft.

While officials expect Zelenskyy will again ask the US and West for fighter jets or help establish a no-fly zone, the Biden administration wants to send Ukraine “more of what’s working well,” according to an official who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Biden administration has already sent Ukraine more than 600 Stinger missiles, 2,600 Javelin anti-tank systems and unmanned aircraft-tracking radar systems; Grenade launchers, 200 shotguns, 200 machine guns and nearly 40 million rounds of small arms ammunition, as well as helicopters, patrol boats, satellite imagery and body armor, helmets and other tactical gear, the official said.

Even though Zelenskyy and Biden talk on the phone almost every day, the Ukrainian president has found a potentially more receptive audience in Congress.

This will not be the first time he has appealed directly to members of the House and Senate, who have remained remarkably unified in their support for Ukraine. Nearly two weeks ago, in a private phone call, Zelenskyy delivered a desperate plea to about 300 lawmakers and staffers that if they couldn’t enforce a no-fly zone, at least more planes would be sent.

“We believe the United States needs to do more,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., returning from a weekend visit with fellow lawmakers in Poland.

Congress has already approved $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and the newly announced security aid will come from that allocation, which is part of a broader bill Biden signed into law Tuesday. But lawmakers expect more help will be needed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Zelenskyy asked for help to rebuild his country last week. In that call, Zelenskyy asked to address the US Congress, to which the democratic leader readily agreed.

“Congress, our country and the world are in awe of the people of Ukraine,” Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Monday announcing the address.

They said Congress “remains steadfast in our commitment to support Ukraine as it faces Putin’s cruel and diabolical aggression.”

Zelenskyj’s next stop could be Spain. The Speaker of the Spanish Chamber of Deputies has invited the President of Ukraine to address the Spanish legislature via video link.

In a letter to Zelenskyy, spokeswoman Meritxell Batet wrote that the address “will be a great opportunity for the chamber, all Spaniards and the thousands of Ukrainians living in Spain to hear your message and express our firm support.”


Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani, Ellen Knickmeyer and Chris Megerian and Raf Casert in Brussels, Jill Lawless in London, Aritz Parra in Madrid and video journalist Rick Gentilo contributed to this report.


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