March 16 (UPI) — U.S. President Joe Biden announced another $800 million in military aid for Ukraine after President Volodymyr Zelensky made a rare appeal for assistance before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.
Biden said the military support will include 800 anti-aircraft systems, 9,000 anti-armor systems, 7,000 small arms, drones and other equipment.
“This could be a long and difficult battle,” Biden said in an address from the South Court Auditorium of the White House. “But the American people will be steadfast in our support of the people of Ukraine in the face of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s immoral, unethical attacks on civilian populations.
“We are united in our abhorrence of Putin’s depraved onslaught. And we’re going to continue to have their backs as they fight for their freedom, their democracy, their very survival.”
Biden’s announcement came hours after Zelensky made an address before a joint session of Congress and stressed urgency in taking steps to counter Russia’s invasion — especially barring them from the skies over Ukraine.
Zelensky urged lawmakers to do more to help Ukraine fend off Russian advances, which are close to entering their fourth week. He said that the present time is Ukraine’s “darkest time” and more restrictions are needed to defeat Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
“Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” he said, presenting a video that showed graphic footage on the ground in Ukraine.
“To create a no-fly zone over Ukraine, to save people, is this too much to ask? Humanitarian, no-fly zone, something that Russia would not be able to terrorize our free cities.
“If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative. You know what kind of defense systems we need, such as 300 and similar other systems. You know how much depends on the battlefield, on the ability to use aircraft. Powerful, strong aviation to protect our people.”
Biden didn’t comment on Zelensky’s request to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine during his announcement of new military aid.
Zelensky also urged more economic punishment for Russia.
“All American companies must leave Russia from their market, leave their market immediately because it is flooded with our blood,” he said.
Zelensky pointedly asked Biden for more involvement.
“I wish you to be the leader of the world,” he said. “Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”
Zelensky received a standing ovation before and after his address. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced him with a chant meaning “glory to Ukraine” in Ukrainian.
Zelensky’s appeals came as negotiators resumed peace talks on Wednesday. Zelensky said earlier in a televised address that discussions are coming along slowly and that they’re beginning to “sound more realistic.”
Biden has pledged significant levels of aid for Ukraine since the fighting began on Feb. 24. On Tuesday, he signed a $1.5 trillion spending bill that includes almost $14 billion for Ukraine that includes funding for defensive military equipment, training and help for millions of Ukrainian refugees. Combined with Wednesday’s new tranche of funding, Biden has approved about $2 billion in aid to Ukraine since his inauguration.
“With this new security funding and the drawdown authorities in this bill, we’re moving further to augment support to the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their country,” Biden said at the signing.
Zelensky made a similar address on Tuesday before Canadian Parliament, during which he also urged leaders in that country to support closing the airspace over Ukraine.
Earlier this month, he called NATO “weak” for failing to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Russian airstrikes have been deadly across Ukraine and have targeted civilian areas, such as apartment buildings in the capital Kyiv.
Zelensky has also been strong in his appeals for entirely isolating Moscow economically — and called on British lawmakers to recognize Russia as a terrorist state.
Zelensky has traveled an unusual path to become the revered leader that he is today. At age 17, he started a career in entertainment as part of a Russian comedy program and found success during the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2008, he starred in the Russian film Love in the Big City and its sequels in 2010 and 2014, as well as a handful of other films.
In a strange incident of art imitating life, Zelensky became the star of the Ukrainian television series “Servant of the People” in 2015 — in which he played the president of Ukraine who wins election through an effective social media campaign against corruption. Netflix announced Wednesday that it’s bringing the series back to the streaming platform due to popular interest.
On New Year’s Eve 2018, Zelensky entered politics for real when he announced his candidacy for Ukraine’s presidential election in 2019 after several polls showed that he was the clear front-runner.
Zelensky won the election in a landslide over incumbent President Petro Poroshenko with more than 70% of the vote. He won as a member of the Servant of the People Party, named after the TV series in which he’d previously played the role. He remains a member of the centrist political party to this day.
Months after his election, Zelensky became an international household name when he was part of a major political scandal in the United States that ultimately led to President Donald Trump’s first impeachment.
Trump, looking ahead to re-election in 2020, had asked Zelensky to investigate and denounce Democrat and former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for receiving $400 million in military aid that had already been appropriated and authorized by the U.S. Congress. Trump also sought an investigation of Biden’s son Hunter, who’d previously been a board member for a Ukrainian gas company.
“Whatever you can do with the attorney general [to investigate Hunter Biden] would be great,” Trump told Zelensky in a phone call.
Trump blocked the military aid to Ukraine and only released it once a whistleblower in the U.S. intelligence community reported the phone call with Zelensky.