Ukrainian President Zelensky to deliver virtual speech to Congress

By Clare Foran and Ted Barrett, CNN

As his nation comes under attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will deliver an important speech to members of the House and Senate on Wednesday, a virtual address that comes as the United States comes under pressure from Ukraine to provide more military assistance to the besieged country.

Zelensky is expected to call on the United States to help enforce a no-fly zone in Ukraine — to protect civilians — and provide fighter jets Ukrainians can use to defend themselves.

Those two controversial options are dividing lawmakers, with Republicans more hawkish about granting Ukraine jets, but some Democrats — and the White House — worried Russia would view such a move as an escalation and lead to potentially America in the war.

Lawmakers on both sides say they are wary of a no-fly zone right now because they believe it could directly pit the United States against Russia in the skies over Ukraine.

While there is broad bipartisan support for aid to Ukraine, many lawmakers also believe the United States should be careful not to be drawn into a direct armed conflict with Russia.

President Joe Biden plans to detail US aid to Ukraine in his own speech later on Wednesday.

The United States and its allies have taken a wide range of actions in recent weeks aimed at punishing Moscow for its invasion, including the deployment of tough sanctions and export controls and a $350 million security assistance package. dollars. Additionally, Congress recently passed a $13.6 billion emergency package to provide defensive, humanitarian and economic assistance to Ukraine, and the Biden administration announced a $200 million assistance package. dollars last weekend.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the virtual address in a letter to lawmakers earlier this week. The speech will be broadcast live and live, Pelosi’s office told CNN.

“I hope he recognizes what we did, but then he asks us to do what he thinks is necessary for the Ukrainians to win in the end,” Senate President Bob Bob told reporters. Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, when asked what he was doing. expects virtual address.

“He’s the president of his country, he’s going to make the maximalist request on behalf of his people, that’s understood, but it must always be balanced with what is in the national interest and the security of the United States” , Menendez said when asked about Zelensky’s demands such as a no-fly zone.

“I think it’s important for Ukraine to win in the national interest of the United States, I just don’t think a no-fly zone or a direct confrontation is what’s needed to get there. achieve,” Menendez said.

Some congressional lawmakers are pushing to add provisions to supply Ukraine with fighter jets to legislation targeting energy imports and Russia’s trade status, but it’s not yet clear what the fate of that effort will be. .

Senate Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota said Monday there was broad bipartisan support for legislation targeting Russia’s energy imports and trade status to punish the country for invading. Ukraine. But, he said, members might want to add other provisions, such as approving the deployment of fighter jets to Ukraine from NATO countries, such as Poland, a dynamic that could complicate the rapid adoption of legislation.

The Biden administration recently rejected a Polish proposal to transfer fighter jets to Ukraine via the United States, arguing it risked escalation as the United States and NATO seek to avoid conflict pure and simple between the alliance and Russia.

“I know the administration has their position on this, but there would be a lot of bipartisan support for the jets,” Thune told reporters on Capitol Hill.

“We will hear from Zelensky again tomorrow and I’m sure he will ask to increase the level of support we provide, to include MiGs,” Thune said Tuesday, a reference to the MiG fighter. jets. “It should be an all-hands effort to give them everything they need to fight their own battles. I think there are things that they haven’t received yet that could help them, lethal help that would at least help them try to keep fighting and prevent the Russians from accessing a lot of their big cities,” he said.

“Tomorrow’s speech should continue to elevate the issue in a way that I believe will put additional pressure not only on the administration, but also on both political parties in Congress to do all they can to help Ukrainians,” Thune added.

But White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that, despite Zelensky’s pleas, the White House does not support establishing a no-fly zone over Israel. Ukraine or the supply of new combat aircraft to the Ukrainian Air Force.

“I would note that [the Pentagon] said that adding aircraft to the Ukrainian inventory is unlikely to significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force compared to Russian capabilities,” Psaki said at the press conference of Tuesday. “And the assessment was that the transfer of these planes could be mistaken for an escalation, as we said, and could lead to a significant Russian reaction, but that’s the risk assessment that was made. That assessment risk has not changed.

On a no-fly zone, Psaki said Biden “must look at decisions that are made through the lens of what is in our national security and global security interests, and he continues to believe that a no-fly zone air exclusion would be an escalation, could trigger a war with Russia.

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CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Jeremy Herb, Donald Judd and Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.