Updated Mar 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Zelensky urges Congress to "remember 9/11" as he pleads for more aid

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky summoned some of the darkest days in U.S. history in a virtual address to Congress, pleading for America to do more to stop Russia's assault on his country and calling on President Biden to “be the leader of the world.”

What he's saying: "Remember Pearl Harbor, the terrible morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you,” Zelensky told a packed auditorium in the basement of the Capitol. “Remember Sept. 11, a terrible day in 2001 when evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories, into battlefields. When innocent people were attacked from the air.”

  • "Our country is experiencing the same every day, right now, at this moment,” he said. “Every night for three weeks now ... Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people."
  • Addressing President Biden directly, Zelensky said, "I wish for you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace." The auditorium erupted in a standing ovation as he concluded.

Why it matters: Zelensky's deeply personal addresses to Western lawmakers and leaders over the past three weeks have helped Ukraine secure major new sanctions and commitments for its defense against Russia. Many would have been considered inconceivable just days prior.

Zoom in: Zelensky thanked Biden and Congress for all the support the U.S. has provided to Ukraine, but called on them to "do more" in the "darkest time" that Europe has seen in 80 years.

  • He urged the U.S. to impose new sanctions "every week until the Russian military machine stops," blacklist all Russian politicians and demand all American companies leave Russia's market "because it is flooded with our blood."
  • Zelensky repeated his request for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, but — acknowledging that this is a red line for the U.S. — asked for surface-to-air missile systems as an alternative so that the Ukrainian army can target Russian bombers on its own.

Toward the end of his remarks, Zelensky asked lawmakers to watch a graphic video compilation showing the destruction that Russia has inflicted on Ukraine and its people, including children. The video concluded with a request to "close the skies." [WARNING: GRAPHIC FOOTAGE]

Zelensky ended his remarks by addressing the room in English.

  • "Today, the Ukrainian people are defending not only Ukraine. We are fighting for the values of Europe and the world in the name of the future. That's why today the American people are helping not just Ukraine, but Europe and the world to keep the planet alive," he said.
  • "Now, I'm almost 45 years old. Today, my age stopped when the heart of more than 100 children stopped beating. I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths."

Driving the news: In response to Zelensky's address, President Biden will announce in remarks at 11:45am ET that the U.S. is providing an additional $800 million in military aid to Ukraine, according to a White House official.

  • The new funding is part of a $13.6 billion aid package to Ukraine that Congress passed last week and will include anti-armor and anti-aircraft weapons that Ukraine had specifically requested.
  • In addition to that $800 million, Biden has also directed an additional $200 million in military aid to be sent to Ukraine from his presidential drawdown authority, bringing the total security assistance authorized over the past week to more than $1 billion.

The big picture: Zelensky first addressed more than 300 members of Congress and their staff via Zoom on March 5, where he pleaded with the U.S. to impose an oil embargo on Russia and transfer Soviet-era warplanes to Ukraine.

  • The Biden administration agreed to ban Russian energy after overwhelming bipartisan pressure from Congress, but he has ruled out sending fighter jets due to concerns about logistics and the possibility of provoking Russia.
  • Under continued pressure from lawmakers and Ukrainian officials, the administration is exploring the possibility of providing advanced air-defense systems capable of targeting the Russian aircraft that have been wreaking havoc on Ukrainian cities.
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