Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s leader, has made an impassioned plea for the US to provide more military aid to his country in the face of Russia’s invasion, prompting President Joe Biden to approve the delivery of new weapons systems, including drones and anti-aircraft systems.
Biden’s announcement of new help for Ukraine’s military fell short of Zelensky’s request for the US and NATO to embrace a no-fly zone or directly supply fighter jets to the country, highlighting the gap that still exists between Kyiv’s demands and what Washington and other European countries are willing to provide.
But Biden said the US and its allies remained “fully committed” to increasing military support for Ukraine, whose resistance to Russian forces has exceeded expectations since the invasion began on February 24.
“I want to be honest with you. This could be a long and difficult battle but the American people will be steadfast in our support for the people of Ukraine, ”Biden said. “We’re going to continue to have their backs as they fight for their freedom, their democracy, their very survival.”
A few hours earlier, speaking by video link to US lawmakers, Zelensky had personally appeared for Biden to show more leadership in handling Russia’s war with Ukraine.
“I wish you to be the leader of the world,” Zelensky said. “Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”
Biden has refused to enforce a no-fly zone or send fighter jets to Ukraine’s government in order to avoid a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia that could trigger a wider conflict. Zelensky said it was crucial for Ukraine to “protect our sky”.
Zelensky’s dramatic appeal began with a call for Americans to remember the attacks they suffered at Pearl Harbor and on September 11 2001 – saying Russia had launched a “brutal offensive against our values” and “our country is experiencing the same thing every day now”.
He also showed a video of Ukrainian cities before and after shelling, including footage of missile attacks on civilian targets. He called on the US to impose more economic and financial sanctions on Moscow, and for corporate America to cut off ties with Russia in order to limit Vladimir Putin’s ability to fund the war.
US lawmakers greeted Zelensky with a standing ovation for his virtual address, which left many members of Congress moved to tears.
Democrats and Republicans said more needed to be done to back the Ukrainian effort, although there remained a range of suggestions about what form that support should take.
Mark Warner, the Democratic senator who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, said after Zelensky’s speech: “We should heed President Zelensky’s call for additional defensive aid including anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft missiles, and for new sanctions on those responsible for supporting the Russian government’s barbaric invasion of a peaceful and sovereign neighbor. “
Mike Quigley, a Democratic congressman from Illinois, said: “It is time for the United States and NATO to get Ukraine the assistance they need. We must stop quibbling over logistics and get fighter jets to Ukraine and protect the skies over humanitarian corridors. If we can’t do that, we should at the very least impose the sanctions President Zelensky requested today. ”
Ben Sasse, the Republican senator from Nebraska, said Zelensky had called on the White House and Congress to “answer whether we have the courage of our convictions,” and urged fellow lawmakers to authorize more military support to Ukraine.
“They need more Javelins, they need more ammo, they need more Stingers, they need more SAMs [surface-to-air missiles], they need more airplanes. They need more of everything, ”he added. “We’re a superpower. We should act like it. ”
In a fact sheet, the White House said the new military aid approved by Biden was worth $ 800mn, in addition to $ 200mn authorized a few days ago.
It included 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 9,000 anti-tank weapons, 100 drones, and small arms such as grenade launchers, machine guns and pistols along with ammunition. In addition to short-range anti-aircraft systems, the US said it was also helping Ukraine acquire longer-range anti-aircraft systems.
The US president is also planning a trip to Europe next week to attend an extraordinary summit of NATO leaders to co-ordinate their response to Russia’s invasion, which has become increasingly brutal.