Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a virtual address to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday morning.
In addition to pleading for more military assistance against the Russian invasion and more sanctions against Russia, Zelensky suggested NATO and other postwar institutions have become obsolete and recommended replacing them with “new alliances” that could deter aggression and respond more effectively to humanitarian crises.
Zelensky began by saying “Glory to the heroes” and ended with “Glory to Ukraine.” He wore a military-style outfit and switched to English near the end, after delivering most of his brief address through a translator.
The Ukrainian president said his people have been “resisting Russian aggression” for the past eight years and were now fighting desperately to preserve their freedom and national identity.
“Russia went on a brutal offensive against our values,” he said. “They threw tanks and planes against our freedom.”
Zelensky linked Ukraine’s fight for freedom to American history on several occasions, in addition to portraying his country as a shield for Europe and its values against Russian aggression. Zelensky said Ukrainians have “the same dreams you have, you Americans,” and invoked the imagery of Mount Rushmore to describe America triumphing over a series of deadly threats to its liberty and values.
“In your great history, you have pages that would allow you to understand Ukrainians,” he said. “Remember Pearl Harbor, that terrible morning of December 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you. Remember September the 11th, a terrible day in 2001, when evil tried to turn your cities into battlefields, when innocent people were attacked from the air.”
“Our country experiences the same every day, right now, at this moment, every night for three weeks now,” Zelensky said, listing the many Ukrainian cities that have been damaged by Russian attacks.
“Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” he said. “This is a terror that Europe has not seen for eighty years. We are asking for a reply, for an answer, to this terror from the whole world.”
Zelensky also borrowed the language of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech, although Zelensky said his dream was of American anti-aircraft weapons protecting the Ukrainian sky. As anticipated, he made a controversial request for the U.S. and NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine – a move that would certainly be taken as an act of war by Russia.
“Is it a lot to ask for, to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people? Is this too much to ask, a humanitarian no-fly zone, so that Russia would not be able to terrorize our free cities?” he asked.
“If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative,” he continued. “You know what kind of defense systems we need, S-300 and other similar systems. You know how much of the battlefield depends on the ability to use aircraft.”
Zelensky went on to ask for “powerful aircraft that can protect Ukraine” in addition to surface-to-air missiles.
“We know that they exist. You have them. But they are not in the Ukrainian sky,” he said.
Zelensky expressed gratitude for all the United States has done so far but urged it to do even more in this “darkest time,” including even tougher sanctions on Russian industry and devastating personal sanctions against “all politicians in the Russian federation who remain in their offices.”
“All American companies must leave the Russian market immediately because it is flooded with our blood,” he said, asking his audience of Congressional representatives to pressure companies in their districts to stop doing business with Russia.
“All American ports should be closed for Russian goods,” he said.
In perhaps the most remarkable passage of his address to Congress, Zelensky strongly suggested NATO is no longer fit for purpose because it allowed the Russian attack to devastate so much of Ukraine. He did not call the alliance out by name, but he mused that post-World War II institutions have become obsolete against 21st Century challenges.
“The wars of the past prompted our predecessors to create institutions that should protect us from war, but unfortunately they don’t work,” he said.
Zelensky said “new tools” and “new alliances” are needed to deter aggression with swift and overwhelming action.
“We propose to create an association, U24, United for Peace – a union of responsible countries that have the strength and conscience to stop conflicts immediately, to provide all the necessary assistance in 24 hours, even weapons if necessary.”
Zelensky said this new alliance would also provide “sanctions, humanitarian support, political support, finances – everything you need to keep the peace, and quickly, to save lives.”
“In addition, such a union could provide assistance to those who are experiencing natural disasters, man-made disasters, who fall victim to humanitarian crises or epidemics,” he said, criticizing the worldwide response to the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic as too slow, especially when it came to distributing vaccines around the world.
“If such an alliance as U24 existed today, we would be able to save thousands of lives in our country, and in many countries of the world,” he said.
After showing a video of Russian attacks on Ukrainian cities that ended with the message “Close the Sky Over Ukraine,” Zelensky switched to English for the conclusion of his address. His closing remarks implicitly criticized the U.S. and Europe for not using their enormous power more aggressively and effectively to deter or halt the Russian invasion.
“Today, it’s not enough to be the leader of the nation. Today, it takes being the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace. Peace in your country doesn’t depend anymore on you and your people. It depends on those next to you – on those who are strong.”
“Strong doesn’t mean big. Strong is brave and ready to fight for the lives of his citizens, and citizens of the world – for human rights, for freedom, for the right to live decently, and to die when your time comes, and not when it’s wanted by someone else, by your neighbor,” he said.
“The Ukrainian people are defending not only Ukraine. We are fighting for the values of Europe and the world, sacrificing our lives in the name of the future,” he said.
“That’s why today, the American people are helping not just Ukraine, but Europe and the world, to keep the planet alive, to keep justice in history,” he said.
Zelensky mourned the deaths of Ukrainian children in the Russian attack, saying he felt his own life ending when their hearts stopped beating.
“I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths,” he said.
“President Biden, you are the leader of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace,” he concluded.