Biden sends weapons, drones to aid Ukraine’s war against Russia — but stops at Volodymyr Zelensky’s plea

Following a remarkable speech delivered by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to Congress in which he begged for more military assistance to fight Russia’s aggression, President Joe Biden on Wednesday pledged to increase “the level of enormous levels of security and humanitarian assistance” to Ukraine – but failed to deliver on promises to supply fighter jets or implement a no-fly zone, as Zelensky hoped.

“I’m not going to comment on that right now,” Biden said, in response to the big question about his support for sending MiG-29 twin-engine fighter jets to Ukraine.

Instead, Biden pledged to give Ukraine “weapons to fight and defend itself through the difficult days to come,” noting that the administration’s most recent package of humanitarian and military assistance will include 800 air defense systems “to ensure the Ukrainian military can continue to intercept planes and helicopters that are attacking their people,” as well as thousands of small arms and millions of shells.

“This can be a long and difficult battle. But the American people will stand firm in our support of the Ukrainian people in the face of Putin’s unjust, immoral attacks on civilians.”

But the announcement doesn’t match a request the Ukrainian president made earlier on Wednesday, when he personally asked Biden — and the 535 members of Congress — to help secure his nation’s skies.

“Being a leader of the world means being a leader of peace,” Zelensky said, speaking directly to Biden in a live video feed from Kyiv, the country still under control. control of Ukraine.

Zelenskyy made it clear in his speech that Ukraine needed to protect its skies from the Russian air force that had claimed the lives of thousands of his compatriots in the past three weeks. Russian airstrikes have indiscriminately targeted civilian infrastructure in Ukrainian cities since the invasion began – an image Zelenskyy shared with members of Congress in a video simulation depicts Russian aircraft attacks on apartment buildings, hospitals, and Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war on foot.

Lawmakers who gathered in an auditorium on Capitol Hill to hear Zelensky’s speech were deeply moved — some in tears — by the video.

Later, some lawmakers publicly grappled with the fact that the emotional video closed with a desperate demand they knew the US wouldn’t fulfill: “Shut the skies of Ukraine.”

Nearly every legislator, Republican and Democrat, exited the speech emphasizing support for Ukraine – while reiterating concerns about taking the drastic escalation of imposing a no-go zone. fly.

Senator Angus King (I-ME), a member of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, suggested that no-fly zone growth may not really justify the risks. The main threat to Ukrainian safety, as King described it, was the incessant shelling of artillery positions on the ground, something a no-fly zone would not address.

“This is a very delicate situation where we have to do everything we can to support the Ukrainians without inciting World War III with a dangerous dictator with nuclear weapons,” King said.

But banning the implementation of a no-fly zone over Ukraine – which the Biden administration has essentially declared a red line, despite objecting to its use – Zelensky has urged Congress to authorize the transfer of the aircraft. fighter for the Ukrainian Air Force.

“If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative,” he said Wednesday of the no-fly zone. “You know a lot depends on the battlefield on their ability to use their aircraft – strong, powerful aviation to protect our people, our freedom, our land.”

“Airplanes,” Zelensky said, “can help Ukraine.”

So far, however, the Biden administration has rejected the notion that Ukraine requires access to fighter jets like the MiG-29 that Poland offered for sale to the country last week. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby asserted that the administration wanted to avoid provoking Russian aggression against NATO in light of statements by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki suggesting that Zelensky was wrong about the country’s defense needs. self.

Psaki told reporters on Tuesday, citing the Pentagon’s assessment: “The addition of the aircraft to Ukraine’s arsenal is unlikely to significantly alter the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force relative to its capabilities. of Russia. “The delivery of these planes could be mistaken for escalation, as we said, and could lead to a substantial Russian response.”

“That risk assessment,” Psaki said, “did not change.”

As the battle entered its fourth week, a story emerged in Washington: that congressional pressure was essential in pushing the Biden administration to adopt the toughest measures against Russia and in favor of the United States. Ukraine.

With lawmakers continuing to urge the administration to send specific weapons to Ukraine and offer advice on when to send them, some leading voices on Capitol Hill are urging colleagues to take a step back and believes in Biden and his team.

“If it shoots, we should send it.”

– Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE)

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has traveled frequently to Ukraine in recent years, said: “I’m not sure it’s helpful for Congress to micromanage Congress. are not.

“For us to telegraph to Russia every day to our departments about what kind of defensive support Ukraine should receive, and to telegraph what weapons systems we are transferring,” he said. delivery… this is a somewhat odd way of prosecuting a war,” he said. “There are some levels of better war strategy within the administration.”

However, Republicans are less inclined to leave it to Biden. And lawmakers on both sides have stepped up support for more direct military support — including MiG-29s that Zelensky says are crucial to preventing a full-fledged occupation.

“More S-300s, more Javelins, more drones, more Stingers, more things,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE). “The government talks about this as some sort of discussion between a lawyer and a nerd, not like a moral war between the good guys and the bad guys, and we need the good guys to win.”

“If it shoots,” Sasse said, “we should send it.” Biden sends weapons, drones to aid Ukraine’s war against Russia — but stops at Volodymyr Zelensky’s plea

Russell Falcon

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