Desperate times often reveal true courage and leadership. Those who watched Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy address Congress Wednesday morning saw this first-hand.

Zelenskyy’s inspiring leadership may be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s greatest miscalculation in his decision to invade Ukraine. While politicians in the United States and elsewhere have the luxury to spend their days counting votes and trading partisan barbs, Zelenskyy has demonstrated that leaders also should stand ready, if necessary, to put their lives on the line in the service of others, and to lend courage to the faint hearted. 

Much of his nation’s success so far in repelling the Russian military seems due to the inspiration set by Zelenskyy’s example.

Zelenskyy wants the United States to do more. President Joe Biden responded Wednesday afternoon with an additional package of military aid worth $800 million. This was part of a larger $14 billion aid package that includes anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, helicopters and other equipment.  

The administration has been carefully walking the line between providing military aid and an avoidance of direct involvement in the fight for Ukraine’s freedom. That’s a blurry line. Were he so inclined, Putin likely already could make the case that the U.S. and other NATO nations have involved themselves, which ought to inform the West as to the Russian leader’s current lack of desire to expand the war. He’s clearly not ready for that.

That doesn’t mean the line, no matter how blurry, should be ignored. We should expect Putin to retaliate if he feels he has no choice.

Which brings us to the two main things Zelenskyy has asked of the United States: fighter jets and the enforcement of a no-fly zone over his country. 

The first has been a source of contention in Washington, with Biden having so-far denied the request to send Polish MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. While the delivery of these jets presents certain logistical challenges, providing them to Ukrainian fighters shouldn’t be any more provocative than providing Stinger anti-aircraft or Javelin anti-tank weapons, both of which the United States has sent in abundance. 

As Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, a former fighter pilot, told us Wednesday, these weapons have succeeded in destroying a great deal of Russian armor and killing many Russian soldiers. 

Stewart supports sending fighter jets. However, he is skeptical about the effectiveness of providing them because he’s not certain the Ukrainian air force has more pilots than it has aircraft. Surely, the United States must calculate the likely payoff of such a thing against the perceived risk. 

The case against enforcing a no-fly zone, however, is much clearer. We understand why Zelenskyy would want such a thing, but it would entail using American and allied pilots to destroy radar positions, anti-aircraft missile sites and other threats. This surely would result in Russian casualties.

Putin likely would want to attack air bases in Poland or Germany that were used to conduct such missions. This would risk expanding the war into a broader conflict.

Denying this request should not be interpreted as abdicating a moral duty toward Ukraine. It is, rather, a way to prevent a spiral toward a larger conflict and even greater suffering. 

Zelenskyy’s presentation to Congress was, by any measure, moving. The video he showed, contrasting Ukraine from before the invasion to its dark, cruel and violent present was stark and illuminating. 

He spoke of establishing a new organization of “responsible countries” that could respond to conflicts decisively within 24 hours. He spoke with passion about the challenges his nation faces.

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has succeeded in uniting much of Washington, regardless of party, just as it has led many American businesses to set profits aside and exit Russia. The inability to predict this may be Putin’s second biggest miscalculation. With unity comes strength.

The United States, still the world’s beacon of liberty, clearly stands ready to do more than any other nation to aid Ukraine and its courageous president in their fight. We commend President Biden for his willingness to help. He must continue to do so, forcefully and vigorously, with a careful eye toward keeping the fight from spreading elsewhere.