By Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON -Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged American lawmakers to do more to protect his country from Russia’s invasion in an address to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday in which he pleaded with President Joe Biden to be the world’s “leader of peace.”
“Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” Zelenskiy said in his virtual address before showing video containing graphic images of death and destruction in Ukraine that ended with “close the sky over Ukraine.”
Zelenskiy continued his push for the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine and asked for more planes and defense systems to respond to a Russian invasion launched last month that has caused large-scale destruction in his country and has unleashed a wave of refugees. He also called for more economic sanctions against Russia.
Ukraine is facing terror that Europe had not experienced since World War Two and the nation’s destiny is being decided, Zelenskiy told the U.S. lawmakers through an interpreter.
“Is this a lot to ask for – to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people? Is this too much?” Zelenskiy asked in his remarks made from Kyiv, his country’s capital that is under attack every day but, he said, “doesn’t give up.”
Zelenskiy closed his address with a direct plea in English to Biden: “I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”
Along with NATO, Biden and many U.S. lawmakers have resisted a no-fly zone amid concerns that it would escalate the conflict with nuclear-armed Russia. The White House so far also has not supported a proposal to help transfer Russian-made MiG warplanes into Ukraine, though that idea has some support in Congress.
Zelenskiy invoked American history, asking the lawmakers to remember the 1941 Japanese bombing of Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, the 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.‘s 1963 “I have a dream” speech in Washington.
“I have a dream. These words are known to each of you today. I can say: I have a need. I need to protect our sky,” Zelenskiy said.
Zelenskiy received a standing ovation before and after his remarks, with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi introducing him with Ukrainian words meaning “glory to Ukraine.” At the conclusion of his remarks, Zelenskiy waved over the video feed and put his hand on his chest in thanks for the reception.
Biden on Tuesday signed into law $13.6 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine to help it obtain more weaponry and for humanitarian assistance. Biden was expected to announce $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine later on Wednesday, a White House official said.
He previously announced a ban on Russian oil and other energy imports and has called for a suspension of Russia’s trading status that affords its exported products lower tariffs in the international arena.
APPEALS TO PARLIAMENTS
Zelenskiy’s address to lawmakers in Washington came a day after he made a plea to Canada’s parliament for more Western sanctions on Russia and the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine. He made similar appeals to the British and European parliaments this month.
Zelenskiy has sought in recent weeks to shore up support for his country in various speeches to foreign audiences, also including the European Parliament and the British Parliament.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation.”
Support for Ukraine is a rare instance in which Republicans and Democrats have aligned in a sharply divided U.S. Congress, with some lawmakers in both parties urging Biden to go further in helping Ukraine. There is some bipartisan support in Congress for rushing combat aircraft to Ukraine.
Democratic and Republican members of Congress, moved by the speech, said they were ready to do more for Ukraine quickly, by clamping down on Russia, providing more military aid for Kyiv and tightening global human rights law.
But they again rejected the idea of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying there was too great a risk of a wider war.
“This is a horrific moment in world history and I hope and pray that it can come to an end soon,” Democratic Representative Jim McGovern said.
Republican Representative Liz Cheney said the United States has done a great deal and should do more quickly, noting that Biden can do more on his own.
“The United States has got to lead. Our own freedom and security depends upon it. And there can be no equivocation between our support for Ukraine versus Russia,” Cheney told reporters after the speech.
On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin as a war criminal.
Putin was defiant in an address on Wednesday as Zelenskiy wrapped up, saying the West will only provoke Russia further with its hostile actions.