Ukraine’s leader on Wednesday issued an emotive appeal to US lawmakers for greater Western intervention against Russia, which insisted its invasion was going “successfully” despite the West rallying to Kyiv’s side via arms and sanctions.
In a landmark virtual address to Congress, President Volodymyr Zelensky invoked Pearl Harbor, the 9/11 attacks and Martin Luther King Jr as he showed a video of the destruction inflicted on his cities by three weeks of Russian attacks.
Zelensky demanded the United States and its NATO allies impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, so that “Russia would not be able to terrorize our free cities”.
Switching to English, Zelensky addressed US President Joe Biden in saying: “I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”
The speech received standing ovations from the members of Congress, much like Zelensky’s prior addresses to the UK and EU parliaments — which were also rich in historical references most likely to strike a chord.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, also reached back to history as he denounced the West’s “pogroms” against Russia and its sanctions “blitzkrieg”, which he said had failed.
At a televised government meeting, Putin insisted the invasion was “developing successfully, in strict accordance with plans”.
“And we will not allow Ukraine to serve as a springboard for aggressive actions against Russia,” he added.
NATO will hold an emergency summit next week in Brussels with Biden attending — but it has so far resisted Zelensky’s pleas for direct involvement for fear of starting World War III.
Indirectly, Biden and other NATO leaders have been stepping up military support for Ukraine including anti-tank weapons that have helped to stall Russian forces north of Kyiv.
Coinciding with Zelensky’s speech, a White House official said Biden would unveil another $800 million of military aid, expected to include more anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.
On the ground, fresh blasts pounded the capital Kyiv, which was under curfew, and Russian rocket fire hit a train station in Zaporizhzhia, used by thousands of refugees fleeing the besieged city of Mariupol.
Some 20,000 residents have been allowed to leave Mariupol. But exhausted, shivering evacuees speak of harrowing escape journeys and rotting corpses littering the streets.
Zelensky had earlier responded to the hacking of Ukrainian TV news with a message demanding Ukraine lay down its arms.
The hack was “the latest childish provocation” from Moscow, he said, claiming the invasion had killed 103 Ukrainian children.
“We are defending our land, our children, our families. So we are not going to lay down any weapons until our victory,” Zelensky said.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court was in Ukraine to investigate Russian atrocities, the president added.
“So the occupiers will be held responsible for all of the war crimes against Ukrainians.”
The conflict has already sent more than three million Ukrainians fleeing across the border, and a peaceful resolution still seems beyond reach.
Kyiv braced for an offensive from Russian forces trying to encircle the capital, although their progress has been slow due in part to resistance from Ukrainian troops using high-tech Western weaponry.
Ukraine and Russia continued stop-start peace talks, after Zelensky conceded that NATO membership was not on the table, in an apparent concession to Moscow.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a “compromise” outcome would centre on Ukraine becoming a neutral state comparable to Sweden and Austria.
But Zelensky’s office gave the idea short shrift.
“Ukraine is now in a direct state of war with Russia. Consequently, the model can only be ‘Ukrainian’ and only on legally verified security guarantees,” Kyiv’s negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak said.
After a morale-boosting train journey to Kyiv by the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, International Committee of the Red Cross president Peter Maurer came for a five-day visit.
He noted the “enormous suffering by the civilian population” in Ukraine and stressed it was “utterly important” for the ICRC’s neutral humanitarian work to be recognised on the ground.
Punishing Western sanctions against Putin’s regime have also stepped up this week, pushing Russia to the brink of default on its foreign debts.
Moscow was due Wednesday to pay $117 million on two dollar-denominated bonds — the first interest payment that has fallen due since it was largely shut out of the Western financial system.
The Kremlin has sought to shut down domestic opposition to the war, blocking access to at least 15 Russian and foreign-based media including the investigation website Bellingcat.
Isolated internationally, Putin has turned to Chechnya and Syria to replenish his invasion force — and to China for economic support.
But facing stern US threats against helping Russia to bypass the sanctions, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing was acting “objectively and impartially”.
“We urge the US not to damage China’s legitimate rights and interests in any form. If the US continues down this path, China will certainly take strong counter-measures,” he added.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)