Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will deliver a virtual address to members of both chambers of the U.S. Congress on March 16 to provide an update on the Russian invasion.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the meeting in a March 14 joint letter to their congressional colleagues.
“The Congress, our country and the world are in awe of the people of Ukraine, who have shown extraordinary courage, resilience and determination in the face of Russia’s unprovoked, vicious, and illegal war,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote.
“As war rages on in Ukraine, it is with great respect and admiration for the Ukrainian people that we invite all Members of the House and Senate to attend a Virtual Address to the United States Congress delivered by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine on Wednesday, March 16th at 9:00 a.m.
“The Congress remains unwavering in our commitment to supporting Ukraine as they face Putin’s cruel and diabolical aggression, and to passing legislation to cripple and isolate the Russian economy as well as deliver humanitarian, security and economic assistance to Ukraine.”
Russia’s advance into Ukraine, which began at the end of last month, has been stalled by Ukrainian resistance, denying Russian President Vladimir Putin a quick advance into Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city.
On March 11, the Senate approved $13.6 billion in financial and military aid to Ukraine as part of a larger $1.5 trillion omnibus spending measure.
Since the invasion began, Zelensky has pushed for the United States and its Western allies to increase aid to Ukraine, particularly calling for high-tech U.S. jets and a ban on imports of Russian oil to further weaken the Russian economy, which has plummeted in a matter of weeks.
“‘We need planes,’” Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) recounted Zelensky saying during a March 5 virtual meeting with a bipartisan, bicameral group made up of more than 280 members of Congress. The Ukrainian president was also reported to have said that “we are all one big army now” and that “the Ukrainian people are the embodiment of unity for democracy for the whole world now.”
“Please help us and please don’t allow our brave and strong people, many times smaller than Russia, to be exterminated,” Zelensky reportedly said during the virtual meeting.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) led a bipartisan group of lawmakers in an effort to ban Russian oil imports—which has since been put in place—but providing fighter jets has been a far more controversial issue.
Many lawmakers worry that sending U.S. jets to Ukraine could rapidly escalate the situation, which has already put Europe at risk of a full-scale ground war and has put Russia and the United States closer to war than they’ve been since the fall of the Soviet Union. While U.S. lawmakers have roundly condemned the Russian invasion, members of both parties are anxious to avoid an escalation or ground war between the two nuclear-armed superpowers.
However, other lawmakers are in favor of delivering U.S. jets to Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian military is in dire need of more lethal aid today to defend the foundations of their country that will allow it to function in the future,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said.
The Pentagon is less in favor of the plan.
“It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said when asked about the issue. “We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe [the proposal] is a tenable one.”
Zachary Steiber and Naveen Athrappully contributed to this report.