New York, March 16 (IANS) As Russia hammered Kiev with artillery with its troops within 30 km of the capital, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky made a direct appeal on Wednesday to US Congress for putting his country under a no-fly zone, a proposal US President Joe Biden had rejected.
“Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” Zelensky said over a video link from Ukraine and asked, “To create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people, is this too much to ask?”
In an emotional speech, he invoked the powerful symbols of US crises of foreign attacks, the 1941 Pearl Harbour attack by Japan and the 9/11 terrorist attack, to reinforce his plea for help.
“Our country experiences the same, every day, right now at this moment,” he said.
Zelensky’s proposal included a modified version, a “humanitarian no-fly zone”, that would provide a safe air corridor for providing relief supplies rather than blanketing the country.
He also referred to another proposal to provide Ukraine with aircraft that has been rejected by Biden without directly naming it.
“You know how much depends on the battlefield, on the ability to use aircraft, powerful strong aviation to protect our people, our freedom, our land, aircraft that can help Ukraine, help Europe. You know they exist and you have them, but they are on Earth not in the Ukrainian sky,” Zelensky said.
Poland has proposed sending its MiG jet fighters to a NATO airbase from where they would be sent to Ukraine and the US making up for them by giving Poland equivalent aircraft.
He also asked for air defence systems like the Russian S300.
Wearing an olive green T-shirt and sitting at a desk with the blue and yellow national flag behind him, Zelensky spoke mostly in Ukrainian from a secret location from where he is directing Ukraine’s defence against Russian invasion.
Members of Congress watched on a giant screen from an auditorium in the Capitol building, rather than from the chamber of Congress. The speech was interspersed with horrific videos of the war.
He had earlier spoken to British and Canadian parliaments.
Zelensky ended his speech in English, directly telling Biden: “Today it is not enough to be the leader of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world… To be the leader of peace.”
The US is wary of creating a no-fly zone because it could create a direct confrontation between the nuclear-armed superpowers.
Ruling it out, Biden’s spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Tuesday, “A no-fly zone is escalatory and could prompt a war with Russia, a major nuclear power.”
It “essentially means us shooting down Russian planes and them potentially shooting back at us”, she added.
Zelensky’s end-run to Congress to ask for a no-fly zone was met warily with fears of World War III.
Representative Michael McCaul, who is the Republican leader on the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, also ruled out a no-fly zone, warning that if there was an air battle between the jets of the two countries, “it is automatically World War III”.
But he said a “redline” should also be considered such as a chemical attack on Ukraine, which would require a reconsideration of no-fly zones.
The Committee’s Democratic chair, Gregory Meeks said that the focus should be on helping Ukraine beef up its air defence system.
Zelensky proposed a new trans-Atlantic alliance, “U24, ‘United for Peace’, a union of responsible countries that have the strength and consciousness to stop conflict immediately”, he said.
Explaining the name, he said that it would “provide all the necessary assistance in 24 hours” when there is an attack.
The Congress has passed a $13.6 billion emergency aid package for Ukraine.
Biden was scheduled to announce later on Wednesday an aid package of $800 million, in addition to the $200 million announced last week.
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com and followed @arulouis)