Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on March 5 urged U.S. lawmakers to step up support for his country by banning oil from Russia, helping secure fighter jets for the Ukrainian military, and imposing additional sanctions on Russian officials.
Zelensky held a virtual meeting with a bipartisan, bicameral group that was said to have numbered over 280 members of Congress.
Banning Russian oil and gas imports would be “even more powerful than SWIFT,” Zelensky told members, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, said on social media.
SWIFT is a banking system from which European Union countries have agreed to exclude Russian banks.
Zelensky also asked for anti-tank weapons and other military aid, as well as assistance in getting fighter jets from nearby countries transferred to Ukraine, so Ukrainian pilots can use them to battle Russian fighters in the sky, according to members on the call.
“His main ask was for the U.S. to allow Poland and Romania to transfer Soviet-era jets to Ukraine, and for the U.S. to compensate by giving more advanced planes to those two NATO allies,” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) wrote on social media.
The plan, an adjustment from repeated calls for the United States or other NATO members to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, drew support as it was seen as a less confrontational move. Officials have warned that a no-fly zone would mean U.S. planes engaging directly with Russian ones, and Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier on March 5 that any outside countries that impose such a zone would be considered by Russia as a participant in the conflict.
“There is widespread agreement that providing direct air support puts us at war with Russia, but we can provide aircraft as Zelensky has asked,” Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), a former U.S. Air Force officer, wrote on Twitter.
Zelensky was said to have outlined how many of Ukraine’s aircraft had been destroyed before requesting aircraft.
“‘We need planes,'” Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), a military veteran, recounted Zelensky saying. The Ukrainian president was also reported to have said that “we are all one big army now” that “the Ukrainian people are the embodiment of unity for democracy for the whole world now,” and “Please help us and please don’t allow our brave and strong people, many times smaller than Russia, to be exterminated.”
NATO should “immediately facilitate the transfer of fighter aircraft from Poland, Romania, and Slovakia to Ukraine,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said after the meeting.
The meeting may spur action from Congress. Some members said they support quickly approving $10 billion in additional aid for Ukraine, and passing a bill to cut off Russian oil purchases.