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Ukraine: Zelensky begs for fighters

WASHINGTON – Fighting for his country’s survival, Ukraine’s leader made a “desperate” plea to American lawmakers on Saturday for the United States to help bring in more fighter jets to the military. and cut Russian oil imports as Kyiv tried to thwart the Russian invasion.

President Volodymyr Zelensky opened a private video call with US lawmakers by telling them this may be the last time they see him alive. He remains in Kyiv, the capital, where a huge Russian armored post is threatening from the north.

Appearing in his signature army green shirt in front of a white wall with a Ukrainian flag, he told them Ukraine needed to secure its skies, either through a NATO-enforced no-fly zone or through by providing more fighter aircraft. Ukraine can better defend itself. Zelensky had begged for a no-fly zone for days, but NATO refused, saying it could provoke a widespread war with Russia.

The hour-long exchange with about 300 members of Congress and their staff comes as Russian troops continue to attack besieged cities and the number of Ukrainians fleeing the country has increased to 1, 4 million people.

“President Zelensky made a desperate plea,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

He said Zelensky wants the US to facilitate the transfer of aircraft from its Eastern European allies. “I will do all I can to help the administration facilitate their transition,” Schumer said.

The US is considering sending US-made F-16 planes as reclamation materials to former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe that are now members of NATO. They will, in turn, send Ukraine their own Soviet-era MiGs, planes that Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly.

However, there appears to be a logistical problem in sending the F-16 to Poland or other Eastern European allies because of the production backlog. These countries would essentially have to deliver their MiGs to Ukraine and accept IOUs from the US for the F-16s. The situation is further complicated as the next batch of F-16s is ordered for Taiwan, and Congress will be reluctant to delay deliveries as China keeps an eye on it.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said the fighter jets were being reviewed after a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba at the Polish-Ukrainian border outside the town of Korczowa.

“We’re discussing and working on everything,” Blinken told reporters.

Blinken reiterated that US support for Ukraine “is not just unprecedented, not only continuing but growing.”

The US Congress is implementing a $10 billion military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine. Schumer told lawmakers Zelensky hopes to send it to Ukraine quickly, according to a person on the call who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss it.

When Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell asked about the types of military assistance his country needs, Zelensky said drones as well as planes would be most helpful.

During the call, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia asked Zelensky about the idea of ​​banning Russian oil imports into the US, according to two other people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the call privately. They said Zelensky indicated such a ban would be effective in putting pressure on Russia.

Republicans and a growing number of Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, support the idea of ​​a ban on Russian oil imports. The Biden administration has so far resisted that step, worried about pump prices rising.

Zelensky called on US lawmakers to sanction Russia’s oil and gas sector, which has so far escaped increased sanctions imposed by the Biden administration and others. He also called on lawmakers to suspend Visa and Mastercard credit card access in Russia.

“Anything that could hurt the Russian economy would benefit the Ukrainian people and could make this war harder for Putin,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said. know in a video posted on Twitter after the call.

Zelensky’s office said he also asked the United States to consider imposing an embargo on all Russian goods and stripping Russia of its most-favored-nation trade status.

Lawmakers feared that Zelensky would be killed during the invasion of Russia. They also worry that a Ukrainian government under attack will not be able to function and receive aid.

When a lawmaker asked diplomatically what would happen if he was killed, Zelensky acknowledged concerns but pleaded with Congress to do whatever it could to help Ukraine fend off a Russian attack on the land. his country.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a statement that “Zelensky’s message was simple: ‘close the skies or give us planes.”

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Associated Press writers Matthew Lee of Korczowa, Poland, and Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.

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