Appearing on a video call with lawmakers from what those in the virtual meeting say appeared to be a bunker Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked the U.S. to provide him with more firepower.
“People are dying, freedom is under assault, and his number one request from us is old Soviet jets,” tweeted Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who was among the more than 280 U.S. senators and House members on the call. “The U.S. and NATO should accommodate his request now.”
Zelenskyy, wearing a green T-shirt, asked Congress for more lethal aid, more planes and more sanctions, and to shut down Russian oil exports during the call, according to Fox News. Zelenskyy also requested a no-fly zone over Ukraine to provide air cover for the Ukrainian people, a tactic NATO earlier rejected.
The Ukrainian president blasted the decision in a speech Friday night.
“All the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you, because of your weakness, because of your lack of unity,” he said. “The alliance has given the green light to the bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages by refusing to create a no-fly zone.”
Romney also said Democratic Senate and House leaders should put a bill providing “desperately needed” military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine to a vote Monday.
“Waiting on the congressional calendar is unacceptable when people are dying,” he said.
The Biden administration earlier this week asked Congress for an immediate $10 billion in humanitarian, security and economic assistance for Ukraine and other Central European nations.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is among a group of GOP senators who sent letters to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., saying they would delay a government funding bill over concerns about excessive spending and vaccine mandates. The package might include emergency aid for Ukraine.
“Until we can fully understand what is in any potential bill, its impact on the fiscal strength of the United States, and how it will influence our nation’s growing inflation crisis, we should not vote on it,” according to one of the letters.
The other letter says the Republican senators would not consent to expedited passage of a funding bill that allows federal vaccine mandates to continue.
Lee also was on the call Saturday with Zelenskyy. He said a number of things impressed him about the Ukrainian leader, including his passion and patriotism.
“He was sitting there speaking to us under humble conditions in what appeared to be a bunker, wearing a simple green T-shirt,” Lee said.
Zelenskyy, who some have described as “Churchillian” in his response to the Russian invasion, told lawmakers that much of his country’s ability to defend itself has been destroyed, including military technology and infrastructure, the senator said.
“And he talked to us about how he’s been reaching out to Ukraine’s neighbors and surrounding countries and their leaders have been strengthening their relationships in an effort to help,” Lee said.
Although Zelenskyy spoke through an interpreter, the tone of his voice and his gestures suggested that he loves his country deeply, and recognizes the direness of the circumstances in which he now finds himself, he said.
Lee said one of the things that struck him most was that Zelenskyy is concerned not only about his own people, but about his neighbors.
“He’s concerned even about the Russians,” he said. “Now, this is something that really differentiates him from Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin has never once indicated any degree of sympathy for the people of Ukraine or for perhaps anyone other than himself.”
Romney said in a press call with Utah reporters this past week that he doesn’t believe the U.S. will put boots on the ground or planes in the sky in Ukraine. Sanctions, he said, could get tougher and tougher, hampering Russia’s ability to wage war.
Defending Ukraine militarily, the senator said, is “not the cards” even though the U.S. admires Ukraine and its leader.
“My goodness, Zelenskyy is an extraordinary leader, a Churchillian leader,” he said. “And the people are strong and resilient and impressive as well. But we do not have a treaty with them and we will not be going to war against Russia.”
But, Romney said, the U.S. can’t be sure that Putin won’t push his troops into Poland and other NATO countries, Romney said.
“You don’t know where a megalomaniac dictator is going to head,” he said. “I hope he doesn’t do those things, but if he does, we, along with our allies throughout the world will be expected to step up.”