Zelensky’s “desperate” request to Congress: send more planes

WASHINGTON – Fighting for the survival of his country, the Ukrainian leader on Saturday made a “desperate” request to US lawmakers to help the United States get more fighter jets for its military and cut off Imports of Russian oil as Kyiv is trying to hinder Russian invasion.

President Vladimir Zelensky opened a private video call with US lawmakers, telling them it could be the last time they see him alive. He remained in Kiev, the capital, which is threatened from the north by a large Russian armored column.

Appearing in what is now him trademark army green shirt in front of a white wall with the Ukrainian flag, he told them that Ukraine must protect its skies either through a no-fly zone imposed by NATO or by providing more military aircraft so that Ukraine can better defend itself. Zelensky had been pushing for a no-fly zone for several days, but NATO refused, saying it could provoke a major war with Russia.

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The hour-long exchange with about 300 members of Congress and their staff took place both Russian troops continued shelling the besieged cities and the number of Ukrainians fleeing the country rose to 1.4 million.

“President Zelensky has made a desperate request,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

He said Zelensky wanted the United States to facilitate the transfer of aircraft from Eastern European allies. “I will do my best to help the administration facilitate their transfer,” Sumer said.

The United States is considering sending American F-16s to the countries of the former Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe, which are now members of NATO. They, in turn, will send to Ukraine their own MiGs of the Soviet era, which are piloted by Ukrainian pilots.

However, due to the backlog in the production of F-16 to Poland or other Eastern European allies there is a problem of logistics. These countries, in fact, would have to give their MiGs to the Ukrainians and take the IOU from the US on the F-16. The situation is further complicated because the next supply of F-16s is destined for Taiwan, and Congress will be reluctant to postpone those supplies as China considers.

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Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that the fighters are under consideration after a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb on the Polish-Ukrainian border outside the city of Korchova.

“We talk about everything and work on everything,” Blinken told reporters.

Blinken reiterated that the support of Ukraine by the United States “was not only unprecedented, it will not only continue but also increase.”

The US Congress is working on a $ 10 billion package of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Sumer said that Zelensky’s lawmakers hope to send him to Ukraine soon, the interlocutor said, and gave anonymity for discussion.

When Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell asked about the types of military support his country needs, Zelensky said drones as well as aircraft will be most useful.

During the conversation, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia asked Zelensky about the idea of ​​banning Russian oil imports to the United States, according to two other people who were given anonymity to discuss a private call. They said Zelensky had shown that such a ban would be effective in putting pressure on Russia.

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Republicans and a growing number of Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, support the idea of ​​banning Russian oil imports. The Biden administration has so far resisted the move, concerned about rising pump prices.

Zelensky called on US lawmakers to impose sanctions on Russia’s oil and gas sector, which has so far avoided the growing sanctions imposed by the Biden administration and other countries. He also called on lawmakers to suspend access to Visa and Mastercard credit cards in Russia.

“Anything that could harm the Russian economy will help the Ukrainian people and could complicate the war for Putin,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.

Zelensky’s office said it had also suggested that the United States consider imposing an embargo on all Russian goods and depriving Russia of its most favorable trade status.

Lawmakers are concerned that Zelensky will be killed during the Russian invasion. They are also concerned that the Ukrainian government under attack will not be able to function and receive assistance.

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When one of the lawmakers diplomatically asked what would happen if he was killed, Zelensky acknowledged the concern, but asked Congress to do everything possible to help Ukraine repel Russia’s attack on his country.

Senator Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Said in a statement that “Zelensky’s message is simple: close the skies or give us planes.”

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Associated Press authors Matthew Lee of Korczow (Poland) and Michael Balzamo contributed to this report.

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