Ukraine’s leader, fighting for his country’s life, made a “desperate” plea to American senators on Saturday, pleading with them to help him secure additional airplanes and shut off Russian oil shipments as Kyiv seeks to stave off the Russian invasion.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy began the exclusive video conversation with US legislators by warning them that this may be the final time they see him alive. He has stayed in Kyiv, the capital, which is threatened from the north by a massive Russian armored column.
He told them that Ukraine needed to safeguard its skies, either through a no-fly zone enforced by NATO or the provision of more airplanes so Ukraine could better defend itself. He appeared in what has become his characteristic army-green shirt in front of a white wall with the Ukrainian flag. For days, Zelenskyy has been appealing for a no-fly zone, but NATO has refused, claiming that it will lead to a wider conflict with Russia.
The hour-long meeting with some 300 members of Congress and their staffs took place as Russian soldiers continued to shell besieged cities and the number of Ukrainians fleeing the nation reached 1.4 million.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer remarked, “President Zelenskyy made a desperate appeal.”
According to him, Zelenskyy wants the US to make it easier for Eastern European allies to transfer planes to the US. “I will do all I can to assist the administration in making their relocation as smooth as possible,” Schumer stated.
The United States is considering supplying F-16s built in the United States as backfill to former Soviet bloc nations in Eastern Europe that are now NATO members. They would then send Ukraine its own MiGs from the Soviet period, which Ukrainian pilots have been trained to fly.
However, due to a production delay, it looks like deploying the F-16s to Poland or other East European partners will be a logistical challenge. These countries would effectively have to hand up their MiGs to the Ukrainians in exchange for an F-16 IOU from the US. The problem is exacerbated further by the fact that the next cargo of F-16s is destined for Taiwan, and Congress would be hesitant to postpone those shipments as it looks to China.
After meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba in the town of Korczowa on the Poland-Ukraine border, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the fighter planes are being considered.
“Everything is being discussed and worked on,” Blinken told reporters.
Blinken said that the United States’ assistance for Ukraine “has been unparalleled, and it is not only going to continue, but it is going to grow.”
The United States Congress is working on a $10 billion military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine. According to a participant on the conversation who requested anonymity to discuss it, Schumer told Zelenskyy legislators that he hopes to deliver it to Ukraine as soon as possible.
When asked what sorts of military support his nation requires, Zelenskyy answered drones and planes would be the most beneficial.
According to two additional sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private discussion, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia asked Zelenskyy about the concept of prohibiting the import of Russian oil into the United States. According to them, Zelenskyy said that such a ban would be useful in applying pressure to Russia.
The concept of a Russian oil import restriction is supported by Republicans and an increasing number of Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The Biden administration has so far rejected such a move, citing concerns about rising gas prices.
Zelenskyy asked US senators to restrict Russia’s oil and gas industry, which has so far eluded the Biden administration’s and other nations’ increasing sanctions.
The Ukrainian president also pushed lawmakers to block Visa and Mastercard credit card access in Russia, which the two companies did later Saturday. Cards issued by Russian banks will no longer be supported by Mastercard’s network, and cards produced outside of Russia will not operate in Russian retailers or ATMs. Visa is working with clients and partners in Russia to stop all Visa transactions in the coming days, according to the company.
“Anything that may affect the Russian economy would benefit the Ukrainian people and may make this conflict more difficult for Putin,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a video uploaded to Twitter following the call.
According to Zelenskyy’s office, he also recommended that the US consider slapping an embargo on all Russian imports and depriving Russia of its most-favored-nation status in trade.
Zelenskyy is expected to be murdered in the Russian invasion, according to lawmakers. They are also concerned that a battered Ukrainian government will be unable to operate and receive assistance.
When asked delicately what would happen if he was assassinated, Zelenskyy recognized the risks but urged Congress to do all possible to assist Ukraine in fighting Russia’s onslaught.
In a statement, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said Zelenskyy’s “message is simple: ‘shut the skies or give us planes.'”