Zelenskyy’s speech to Congress puts more pressure on Biden to expand US role

Zelenskyy has repeatedly and emotionally called on NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which Biden has staunchly refused to do for fear that any potential confrontation between US planes or troops and escalates into a much larger conflict and potentially a world war.

Biden also reversed a decision by Poland to transfer aging planes via the United States to Ukraine for fear it would escalate the conflict.

If Zelenskyy’s speech to Congress is as impassioned as his other public appearances of late, Biden could come under increased pressure from lawmakers calling for more Ukrainian aid. White House officials stressed that Biden and Zelenskyy get along well and that their interests are aligned. The two presidents have spoken to each other several times since the invasion and have repeatedly praised each other’s efforts.

But the two men are also a study in contrasts.

Zelenskyy defiantly remained in kyiv, wearing combat t-shirts and hoodies as he wandered the streets of the Ukrainian capital and vowed never to leave his home country. Armed with a cellphone camera, he rallied Ukrainians and the world with his inspirational messages, at times almost provoking Putin with opposite displays of his very survival.

Biden, meanwhile, has taken a much more cautious approach. He drew clear lines he said he wouldn’t cross, like sending US troops on the ground in Ukraine, while making it clear to Putin that the US would defend every square inch of NATO territory. . The approach has drawn recent criticism, with some believing it could embolden the Russian president, but White House aides said laying the markers was a way to urge allies to help with whatever they can while being reassured that the United States would do so. not to provoke the conflict further in Europe.

Zelenskyy addressed the Canadian parliament with emotion on Tuesday and urged lawmakers to imagine if Toronto came under attack like Kyiv was.

“But also, I would like you to understand – and I would like you to feel this – what we feel every day. We want to live and we want to be victorious,” the Ukrainian president said.

In what looked like a prefutation of Zelenskyy’s next call, White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed out on Tuesday that the United States had already sent $300 million in military aid to Ukraine.

“One of the reasons why they are able to push back is the significant amount of military assistance we have provided,” Psaki said, praising the Ukrainian resistance.

Short of a few non-participants, the White House tried to empty its toolbox to help kyiv, sending supplies, imposing sanctions and banning the import of Russian oil. And embracing the symbolism of a unified West, the White House will send Biden to Europe possibly as early as next week. The aides are planning an appearance at an emergency NATO summit in Brussels, although it was unclear whether any more stops would be added.

Top Biden MKs are in close contact with their Ukrainian counterparts as the dispute has deepened. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks regularly with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, including a call on Tuesday. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Andriy Yermak, a senior Zelenskyy aide, are in daily contact, a National Security Council spokesman confirmed.

Privately, Biden administration officials acknowledge noticing the pressure exerted by Zelenskyy’s pleas for additional help, but they don’t blame him.

“Of course he pushes us – his country has been invaded,” said a senior administration official.

But there are limits to what Biden can do to alter the tide of the war as Russian forces continue their slow and grueling advances into Ukraine.

“I don’t see the ability to change the fundamental trajectory, although we can give Ukraine more means to defend itself and start preparing for the next potential phase of the war, a long Russian invasion and occupation,” said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Administration officials also pointed out that the equipment the United States has already sent, including missile defense systems, has helped Ukraine keep Russia at bay and that some of kyiv’s other requests, such as fighter jets, would not make much difference.

PSAki said Biden would likely watch Zelenskyy’s speech. White House aides didn’t say whether Biden would react publicly to the address, but Haass said the key in the coming days would be for Washington and kyiv to “make sure they’re on the same length of wave for diplomatic requests” in future negotiations with Russia.

But many members of Congress — including lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — have called for more help, including sending Polish MiG planes to Ukraine.

“Enough talk. People are dying,” the senator said. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) this week. “Send them the planes they need. They say they need MiGs. … They want MiGs. Give them the MiGs.

Around 300 lawmakers joined a Zoom call with Zelenskyy earlier this month in which the Ukrainian leader highlighted his urgent needs from the West – many of which have already been provided, including $14 billion in military and humanitarian aid. .

Biden used the crisis to drive home the idea that the United States was reclaiming its place as leader of the free world, and framed it as a battle between democracies and autocracies.

Under the Obama administration, then-Vice President Biden took the lead on the Ukraine file after Putin first invaded the country in 2014. Biden’s interest in helping Ukraine on the security front hasn’t faltered since becoming president, although Zelensky would love to see more.

But Biden has also urged Ukrainian leaders to tackle corruption and other domestic issues, leading to friction between Washington and Kyiv.

At the start of the Biden presidency, his administration imposed a visa ban on Ihor Kolomoyskyy, a Ukrainian business magnate whom the Biden team had urged Zelenskyy to prosecute. Ukrainian observers suspected Zelenskyy of being reluctant to prosecute Kolomoyskyy in part because the mogul owned a media outlet that had given Zelenskyy good coverage.

The Biden team also worried about Ukraine’s internal political wrangling and the instability that could result. Prosecutors in Zelenskyy’s government, for example, were prosecuting former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for treason and supporting terrorism.

Zelenskyy, a former comedian, beat Poroshenko, a billionaire candy tycoon, for the presidency. In 2019, then-President Donald Trump threatened Zelensky with withholding military aid to Ukraine unless he investigated Biden’s dealings there.

Trump was later impeached over it, although he was not convicted.

Nahal Toosi contributed to this story.


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