Zelenskiy to speak directly to US Congress in plea for aid
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will make a rare wartime address by a foreign leader to both chambers of Congress, pleading with U.S lawmakers by video conference for more aid as Russian bombs reduce his cities to rubble.
Zelenskiy, who has emerged from obscurity to garner widespread sympathy and a global profile, will speak on Wednesday as lawmakers in both parties agitate to do more to help Ukraine and punish Moscow, with even Democrats often breaking with the White House.
Zelenskiy will almost certainly find a more receptive audience than his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, did when addressed a joint session of Congress in September 2014, several months after Russia annexed Crimea.
At the time, Republican hawks demanded the Obama administration send Ukraine lethal aid to reclaim Crimea. But the White House resisted amid fears of provoking Russia, approving only non-lethal assistance.
“One cannot win the war with blankets. One cannot keep the peace with blankets,” Poroshenko said at the time as then-Vice President Joe Biden sat behind him in the House chamber.
Nearly eight years later, Zelenskiy will speak -- this time virtually -- as aid flows into Ukraine.
Congress last week sent to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature $3.5 billion ( €3.2 billion) to “replenish U.S. stocks of equipment sent to Ukraine.” That’s expected to include new shipments of 105mm mortars and additional Javelin and Stinger anti-armor and anti-aircraft weapons, according to people familiar with the issue.
But Zelenskiy won’t get all of his asks, including a no-fly zone over his country, which the U.S. and NATO allies argue would put them in the provocative position of shooting Russian planes out of the sky.
Despite a Russian strike this weekend on a military training facility near the Polish border, the U.S. has not changed its calculation on a no-fly zone.
“What we will do is increase and intensify our efforts to supply the Ukrainian defenders with the weapons and security assistance they need to defend themselves,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding that the U.S. is coordinating with allies on additional spending on military assistance.
Zelenskiy also wants Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets from the few countries who still fly them, which would require the U.S. to refill the stockpile of allies’ jets with more modern F-16s. The Biden administration has steadily resisted, despite an offer from Poland and some calls within Congress to do so.
That idea, however, is starting to take root on Capitol Hill.
Biden, who has consulted NATO allies on economic responses to Russia’s invasion, last week banned imports of Russian oil, vodka, caviar and diamonds. He also called on U.S. lawmakers to join Western allies in revoking the country’s preferential trade status following the Ukraine invasion.
The president can’t unilaterally remove what’s known as “permanent normal trade relations” status for Russia because that authority lies with Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would consider legislation this week to revoke the designation, a move that has support from both parties.
Downgrading Russia’s trade status “is going to make it harder for Russia to do business with the United States,” Biden said in remarks at the White House Friday, adding that it would “be another crushing blow to the Russian economy.”
Historic in Nature
Only senators and House members will attend the speech, which will play on a big screen in an auditorium in the Capitol complex. The House floor, the usual place for a joint address, doesn’t have the capabilities for a virtual speech.
Unlike an earlier meeting with lawmakers, Zelenskiy’s address will be livestreamed and a feed sent to TV networks.
It’s not unusual for world leaders to address Congress when in Washington, but a wartime address isn’t a frequent occurrence.
Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, the former Afghan president, addressed a joint meeting of Congress in 2015, as did Benjamin Netanyahu, then-Israel prime minister who was speaking in support of a strong Iran nuclear deal.
U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered perhaps the most famous wartime address to Congress in December 1941, less than three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
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