Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy live streamed an address to the United States Congress on Wednesday in an effort to build support for a controversial “no-fly zone” to protect Ukrainian civilians and for the transfer of Russian MIGs from Poland to Ukraine.
The “no-fly zone” is a non-starter given the near certainty that it would involve confrontations between American military aircraft and Russian fighters. But the transfer of fighter aircraft from Poland might still be made despite Russian threats.
After Zelensky’s address, Joe Biden will address Congress and ask them to approve another billion dollars of immediate assistance, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons that have so far proven themselves to be highly effective in Ukraine’s battle for national sovereignty.
But there are concerns on both sides of the aisle that Biden’s refusal to transfer the MIGs sends the wrong signal to Putin.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Tuesday that President Biden “folded like a cheap suit” when he rejected a plan from Poland to transfer MiG fighter jets to Ukraine as it resists Russia’s invasion.
During an appearance on Fox News’s “Faulkner Focus,” Graham told host Harris Faulkner that the Biden administration was intimidated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his officials when it pulled out of the MiG transfer with Poland due to the fear of escalation with Russia.
Graham doesn’t believe the Biden administration is serious about stopping Putin.
“I’m going to introduce a resolution supporting the transfer of the MiGs and other any aircraft systems to Ukraine and have every member of Senate vote on it,” Graham told Faulkner. “I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines and watch[ing] this administration … conduct policy as if they’re a deer in the headlight.”
“Perhaps we need a coward in the room when we are talking about nuclear war,” said UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis. Stevenson was being mocked by Kennedy’s advisors for not being “tough enough” with the Russians. When Graham and his fellow hawks start breathing fire about “no-fly zones,” we should pray that there are people wise enough to resist the pressure to make useless warlike gestures.
Zelensky’s address was being referred to as the most significant address by a foreign leader to Congress since Winston Churchill’s speech in 1941.
In a remarkably direct appeal by a wartime leader to policymakers in Washington, Mr. Zelensky addressed lawmakers on a large screen in a movie theater-style auditorium under the Capitol, invoking the memories of Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — when the United States came under attack — as he pleaded for support saying, “we need you right now.”
In remarks translated from Ukrainian, he said starkly: “I call on you to do more.”
He called for a “no-fly zone” — “I have a need” to protect the sky, he said. Again, that won’t happen, but judging by the reaction by members of Congress, both Zelensky and the lawmakers believe Biden should do more.
He concluded by speaking in English, calling upon the United States to take up what he portrayed as an obligation, given its place on the world stage to intervene in the conflict.
“To be the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace,” he said, as members of Congress grew visibly emotional.
As he addressed them directly, lawmakers sat rapt in their seats. Some scribbled notes, taking down quotations from his address, and many sniffled back tears.
“There was a collective holding of the breath,” said Senator Angus King, independent of Maine.
Some members of Congress are calling on Biden to give the highly advanced S-300 anti-missile system to Zelensky. But if that system ever fell into the hands of the Russians, it would make most NATO missiles obsolete. Can Biden take that chance?
Zelensky’s speech went as advertised — a skilled actor tugging at the heartstrings of his audience and getting the emotional response he needed. But how far will Biden go in giving Zelensky what he wants and needs to resist Russia?
Putin is wondering the same thing.