Ukraine’s Zelenskyy appeals to Congress for help: Lamborn pushes for Polish MiGs, Colorado delegation agrees on more economic sanctions, many refuse no-fly zone.

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J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the U.S. Congress by video to plead for support as his country is besieged by Russian forces, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022.

As his country and people resist a Russian invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed directly to Congress Wednesday.  It was a call for help and additional support that resonated with many members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation.

“Russian troops have already fired nearly 1,000 missiles at Ukraine, countless bombs,” Zelenskyy told members of congress through a translator during a virtual joint address.  

“They used drones to kill us with precision. This is a terror that Europe has not seen for 80 years. I need to protect our sky. I need your help.” 

Invoking U.S. tragedies, such as Pearl Harbor and 9/11, Zelenskyy thanked the Biden administration and Congress for the support shown thus far, while again requesting tighter sanctions and more military aid. 

“[Russian President] Putin is waging war against innocents, children and babies,”  Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper said. “It’s gut-wrenching. This has to stop.”

Hickelooper, Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter and GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn said they were moved by the address.

“President Zelensky’s moving address reinforced the shocking, saddening, and maddening situation on the ground and the need for a continued global effort to support Ukraine and tighten sanctions on Russia’s economy to hold them accountable for their unjustified, violent actions,” Perlmutter said afterwards.

“What he said and showed us was very powerful,” said Lamborn, who is a member of the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus. “Certainly we should be doing everything we can. I think we should be giving, with Poland’s help, MiGs to Ukraine so that they can control the sky.”

So far, the Biden administration has rejected that plan.

However, heading into the address, Democratic Rep. Jason Crow said there are a lot of tenable requests, such as “fighter jets, enhanced air defense capabilities, anti-ship missiles, artillery pieces, things that can really change the scales and tip the balance in favor of Ukraine.”

Republican Rep. Ken Buck, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs committee, said he would support sending more anti-aircraft weapons, so long as they are operated by Ukrainians, along with more sanctions against Russian government officials.

“I think sanctions against members of the Duma makes sense,” Buck said, referring to the Russian legislature. “(Zelenskyy is) doing his best to lead his country in a difficult time.” 

Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette also supported the idea of continuing to penalize the Russian oil industry. 

“I agree we shouldn’t have a drop of Russian oil in this country. I think the American public should boycott companies that are still doing business in Russia if they won’t pull out. I think we need to take all the sanctions against all the oligarchs.”

She described Zelenskyy as a “courageous leader” and added that U.S. and NATO allies should be doing all they can to bolster Ukraine with aid, including humanitarian aid.

Watching from Colorado, due to testing positive for Covid-19, Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse said Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people “have inspired the world.” 

He noted that the House took decisive steps to support Ukraine last week, passing a bill to ban Russian oil imports to the U.S., as well as passing a government budget that included more than $13 billion dollars in security and economic aid, as well as humanitarian support. 

“Building on these actions, I believe we must continue to do more to ensure Ukraine has the resources it needs — including providing additional military equipment and supplies. We must ensure democracy prevails over autocracy,” he said in a statement.

After the address, Biden announced an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, including Stinger anti-aircraft systems, Javelins, and anti-armor weapons.

Sen. Michael Bennet said he supports the decision. 

“We must continue to explore all options for providing Ukraine with the support it needs to defend itself from Russian threats, and level painful sanctions on Putin and his enablers in this ruthless invasion.”

The senator who has often spoken about the state of democracy on the chamber floor added, Putin’s attack on Ukraine “is an attack on democracy worldwide, and we must continue to support Ukraine in its pursuit of sovereignty.”

However, Zelenskyy also made one request that is still considered a step too far: a no-fly zone.

“I don’t think we want American weapons shooting down Russian airplanes, because that would provoke a direct conflict with Russia,” said Lamborn.

DeGette said she’s concerned the possibility of having Americans and Russians in direct contact “will give [Russian President] Putin, who is unhinged already, the incentive to start World War Three.”

Buck put it in simpler, but no less stark terms. 

“Having NATO enforce a no-fly zone is just not something many people have a stomach for, and I certainly don’t,” he said.

CPR also reached out to Rep. Lauren Boebert’s office for comment.