WASHINGTON (AP) — Fighting for his country’s survival, Ukraine’s leader on Saturday made a “desperate” plea to U.S. lawmakers for the United States to help him provide more warplanes to his military and cut Russian oil imports as Kiev attempts to prevent Russian invasion.
President Volodymyr Zelensky opened the private video call with US lawmakers telling them this may be the last they will see him alive. He remained in Kiev, the capital, which has a large Russian armored column threatening from the north.
Appearing in what is now his gunned-down green shirt in front of a white wall with the Ukrainian flag, he told them that Ukraine needed to secure its skies, either through a NATO-imposed no-fly zone or by providing more warplanes so Ukraine could better defend itself. Zelenskyy has been advocating for a no-fly zone for days, but NATO has refused, saying it could provoke an all-out war with Russia.
The hour-long exchange with some 300 members of Congress and their teams took place as Russian troops continued to bombard encircled towns and the number of Ukrainians who fled the country rose to 1.4 million.
“President Zelenskyy has made a desperate appeal,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
He said Zelenskyy wanted the United States to facilitate the transfer of planes from Eastern European allies. “I will do everything I can to help the administration facilitate their transfer,” Schumer said.
The United States is considering sending American-made F-16s as backfill to former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe that are now members of NATO. In turn, they would send Ukraine their own Soviet-era MiGs, which Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly.
However, there seems to be a logistical problem in sending the F-16s to Poland or other Eastern European allies due to a production delay. These countries would basically have to give their MiGs to the Ukrainians and accept an IOU from the United States for the F-16s. The situation is further complicated because the next delivery of F-16s is scheduled for Taiwan, and Congress would be reluctant to delay those deliveries as it looks to China.
State Secretary Antony Blinken said the fighter jets were under consideration after meeting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba at the Polish-Ukrainian border outside the town of Korczowa.
“We talk and work on everything,” Blinken told reporters.
Blinken reiterated that US support for Ukraine “not only has been unprecedented, not only will it continue, it will increase.”
The US Congress is working on a $10 billion military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine. Schumer told Zelenskyy lawmakers they hoped to get him to Ukraine quickly, according to a person on the call and granted anonymity to discuss it.
When Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell asked about the kinds of military support his country needed, Zelenskyy said drones along with planes would be most helpful.
During the call, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia asked Zelensky about the idea of banning the import of Russian oil into the United States, according to two other people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the issue. private call. They said Zelenskyy had indicated such a ban would be effective in putting pressure on Russia.
Republicans and a growing number of Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, support the idea of a ban on Russian oil imports. The Biden administration has so far resisted this step, worried about rising prices at the pump.
Zelenskyy urged U.S. lawmakers to sanction Russia’s oil and gas sector, which has so far escaped mounting sanctions imposed by the Biden administration and other countries.
The Ukrainian leader also urged lawmakers to suspend access to Visa and Mastercard credit cards in Russia – and the two announced later on Saturday that they were doing just that. Mastercard said cards issued by Russian banks will no longer be supported by its network and any card issued outside the country will not work in Russian stores or ATMs. Visa said it was working with customers and partners in Russia to end all Visa transactions over the next few days.
In a video posted to Twitter after the call, Senator Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said, “Anything that could harm the Russian economy will help the Ukrainian people and could make this war harder for Putin.
Zelenskyy’s office said he also suggested the United States consider imposing an embargo on all Russian products and stripping Russia of its most favored nation trading status.
Lawmakers fear Zelenskyy could be killed during the Russian invasion. They also fear that a Ukrainian government under attack may be unable to function and receive aid.
When a lawmaker asked diplomatically what would happen if he was killed, Zelenskyy acknowledged the concerns but implored Congress to do whatever it can to help Ukraine fight off Russia’s assault on its country.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a statement that “Zelenskyy’s message is simple: ‘shut up the skies or give us planes’.”
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