Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pleaded with the US to set up a no-fly zone over Ukraine, ban oil imports from Russia and send more planes to the war-torn nation during a video call with a bipartisan group of senators and members of Congress.
In the emotional, hour-long call, Mr Zelensky thanked the US for the support it has given to Ukraine since Russia launched a full-scale invasion last Thursday but hit out at the nation for not acting sooner on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
“If you had started sanctions months ago, there would not have been war,” he said, according to Fox News.
Mr Zelensky said his country needs more help as Mr Putin’s forces continue to attack, increasingly targeting civilians and refusing to abide by agreed upon ceasefires set up to allow Ukrainians to evacuate areas under heavy shelling.
Following the call, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said that Mr Zelensky made a “deeply moving plea” to the US to impose tougher sanctions on Russia including a ban on importing Russian oil and gas.
“Deeply moving plea by President Zelensky on this morning’s call for desperately needed American arms support & stronger economic sanctions,” he tweeted.
“Zelensky has challenged us—a call for world support at this critical hour, because Ukraine is fighting for all our values not just their existence.
“No doubt after this call: Stronger sanctions are vital, including an embargo on Russian oil & gas. Boycott all Russian products & seize cronies’ assets. Isolate as a pariah.”
He added: “For all on the call, this moment was deeply & uniquely moving & emotional. So eloquent, compelling, & composed—a profile in courage. A heroic, inspiring historic figure.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement that the Ukrainian president also specifically asked for the West to send more fighter jets to help with the Ukrainian defence.
“President Zelenskyy made a desperate plea for Eastern European countries to provide Russian-made planes to Ukraine. These planes are very much needed,” he said.
“And I will do all I can to help the administration to facilitate their transfer.”
Mr Zelensky also reinforced his calls for the US to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine and also called for other sanctions on Russia such as banning all commercial transactions like Visa and Mastercard, reported CNN.
Hours later, the Ukrainian president said in a statement on Instagram that he had spoken with the lawmakers about “war crimes” being carried out by Russian forces and urged them to up the sanctions on Moscow.
“Spoke online with representatives of both chambers and both parties of the US Congress. Told about the course of the fighting and war crimes of the Russian army in Ukraine: shelling, schools, residential buildings, kindergartens, churches,” he wrote.
“As well as the danger the occupant’s pose to chemical and nuclear facilities, Ukraine needs to close airspace to protect civilians and objects of critical infrastructure.
“Urged congressmen to continue to increase sanction pressure on Russia. Appreciate the support!”
At the end of the call, several lawmakers are said to have voiced their support for Ukraine saying“Slava Ukraini” - the national salute that translates as “Glory to Ukraine”.
The Ukrainian president was visibly moved by their gesture, according to someone on the call.
The virtual meeting came hours after Mr Zelensky hit out at NATO for refusing to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying that the decision has effectively given the “green light” for Russia to continue bombing cities across the country.
“Knowing that new strikes and casualties are inevitable, NATO deliberately decided not to close the sky over Ukraine,” he said in a video statement on Friday.
“Today the leadership of the alliance gave the green light for further bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages, refusing to make a no-fly zone.”
The Biden administration and NATO allies have repeatedly insisted that they will not establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
A no-fly zone would ban Russia from operating over the country but would require the US military to essentially start shooting down Russian planes.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that it would result in a “full-fledged war in Europe” and that “President Biden has been clear that we are not going to get into a war with Russia”.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also ruled out introducing a no-fly zone, saying “we are not part of this conflict”.
“We have a responsibility as NATO allies to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine because that would be even more dangerous, more devastating and would cause even more human suffering,” he said.
Mr Putin issued a warning to the West on Saturday that any attempt to impose a no-fly zone would be taken as a declaration of war against Russia.
The Russian president said that Moscow would view “any move in this direction” as an intervention that “will pose a threat to our service members”.
“That very second, we will view them as participants of the military conflict, and it would not matter what members they are,” he said.
Despite the risks of implementing a no-fly zone, 74 percent of Americans said they support a no-fly zone over Ukraine, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.
Pressure is also mounting on the US to ban imports of Russian oil and gas - a move that would hammer the Russian energy industry but the White House is practicing caution around, warning it could lead to a spike in prices for Americans at the gas pump.
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