The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, addressed the United States Congress on Wednesday with a dramatic speech, while the bombs continued to hit his population, to implore more military aid to stop the bloody Russian invasion. Dressed in a military khaki shirt and with a tired face, Zelensky invoked great American historical traumas such as the Pearl Harbor massacre and the 9/11 attacks to convince the most powerful of his allies to go one step further and, among other measures, activate a no-fly zone to prevent Russian aircraft attacks on Ukraine. “We need you now. I ask you to do more,” he cried out. “Today being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace,” he stressed, appealing to Joe Biden.
The American leader appeared hours later at the White House and signed the delivery of an additional 800 million dollars (about 727 million euros) of military aid to Ukraine, which is part of the large approved program of 13,600 million (12,370, in euros) the last week by Congress. In addition to ammunition and missile systems, it will include drones. Biden welcomed the Ukrainian’s “exceptional” speech and assured, in direct response to the president: “We are going to do more in the coming days and weeks.”
Zelenski, who intervened by videoconference, is not the first foreign leader to speak to Capitol Hill – a handful of French and British, the German Angela Merkel, Pope Francis or Nelson Mandela have done so before -, but few interventions reach the historical significance of the intervention this Wednesday morning, carried out on the twenty-first day of war. Eighty years ago, on December 26, 1941, it was Winston Churchill who blew the whistle on Washington legislators. The United States had just entered World War II, following the bombing of the US naval base at Pearl Harbor (Hawaii) by Japan.
The Ukrainian leader waved that memory from the screen before the United States congressmen and senators, who were listening to him gathered in a joint session in the visitors’ lobby of the Capitol, since the large-format video could not be played in the plenary room. “Now we need you, I ask you to remember Pearl Harbor, when you were attacked. Remember 9/11,” he stressed. Zelensky has asked the Western powers for more sanctions, more weapons (especially planes) and, most controversially, their involvement in the country’s air defense, which goes through the much hyped activation of a no-fly zone, which the West , for the moment, rejects to try to avoid an escalation.
“We ask for help to end this terror. Is it too much to ask that they close the sky to save people’s lives?” exclaimed the president. rough way, a no-fly zone consists of prohibiting all military flights in a certain area, which implies that any device that enters the exclusion zone can be shot down. Russia has warned that it would consider such a move a declaration of war by NATO.
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The leader warned that it is not only Ukraine that Russian leader Vladimir Putin has attacked since he launched the invasion on February 24, but Europe and democratic values around the world. “Right now the fate” of Ukraine is decided, he said, but also universal “human values”. ”In the darkest moment for our country, for all of Europe, I ask you to do more. New sanctions packages are needed, constantly, every week, until the Russian military machine is stopped,” he stressed.
He delivered most of his speech in Ukrainian, but ended in English to appeal directly to Biden: “You are the leader of your great nation. I want him to be the leader of the world and being the leader of the world today means being the leader of peace.”
The name of Zelensky, a 44-year-old former comedian by profession who came to power after sweeping the 2019 elections, had already sounded many times in that Capitol before this war. The pressure that the Ukrainian leader received from President Donald Trump —including the freezing of military aid— to try to harm Biden’s electoral career in 2020 led to the first trial of impeachment against the Republican. History has wanted to place him this Wednesday, again and in a more bitter situation, at the center of the temple of American democracy. This time, however, Republicans and Democrats have found in the Ukraine crisis one of the few points of consensus, and the Ukrainian president has received a unanimous applause.
Congress has pressured Biden since the beginning of the crisis to pass sanctions against Putin and double aid to the former Soviet republic. Last week, a government spending program that includes around 12,370 million additional euros for the country, in terms of humanitarian and military support, went ahead by a large majority. Several lawmakers have also spoken in favor of sending fighters for Ukraine to use, something that the allies do not agree with, but the no-fly zone hardly garners consensus.
“We will make Putin pay the price,” Biden promised from the White House, after Zelensky’s speech. The item of 727 million euros in war material is added to the 318 million approved after the invasion, which in turn had been added to the 590 million euros that the United States had already allocated to Ukraine’s security last year.
Ukraine is not a member country of NATO and that is why the countries of the Alliance (the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, among others) refuse to send their troops to fight on the Ukrainian side, but they have responded to Russia with an unprecedented arsenal of economic sanctions and have given kyiv resources for its defence.
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