Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a stark warning against a NATO “no-fly zone” over the skies of Ukraine as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed a virtual meeting of U.S. lawmakers Saturday to plead for a more aggressive Western response to Russia’s 10-day-old invasion of his country.
The session with a group of U.S. senators was the first time the comic-actor-turned-president has addressed an American audience since Mr. Putin’s forces crossed the border into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
A tentative cease-fire to allow trapped civilians to leave besieged cities in eastern Ukraine appeared to be breaking down amid reports of continued Russian shelling around the strategic port city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said.
Mr. Zelenskyy has earned widespread praise for his courage in the face of the Russian invasion and his deft touch on social media in highlighting Ukraine‘s dogged resistance to the fighting and false information efforts from Russia.
But he also has expressed mounting frustration with NATO and the West, particularly over the refusal to authorize the “no-fly zone” over his country to blunt Russia’s air superiority in the fighting.
Both the Biden administration and NATO head Jens Stoltenberg firmly ruled that out again this week, warning the move could lead to direct clashes between Russian and NATO forces and risks sparking a far wider war.
SEE ALSO: Stoltenberg nixes NATO ‘no-fly zone’ for Ukraine
“All the people who will die starting from this day will also die because of you,” a visibly angry Mr. Zelenskyy told a meeting of NATO ministers Friday. “Because of your weakness, because of your disunity.”
But Mr. Putin countered with his own warning about a NATO no-fly zone while meeting with female Russian pilots Saturday in Moscow.
The “very second” NATO moves in that direction, Mr. Putin said, “we will view them as participants of the military conflict, and it would not matter what members they are,” according to the Associated Press.
The U.S. has already imposed a broad range of economic and financial sanctions on Russia over the war, and lawmakers are debating additional aid for Mr. Zelenskyy‘s government, including a $10 billion emergency request from President Biden.
In his hourlong congressional Zoom call, Mr. Zelenskyy made an explicit plea for more Western drones, planes and weaponry to help defend his country, according to accounts by lawmakers and aides afterward. Nearly 300 lawmakers, aides and staffers reportedly listened in on the call.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, said he would “do all I can to help the administration to facilitate” the transfer of military planes from Eastern European nations to Ukraine.
SEE ALSO: Why a NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine is a dangerous idea
Mr. Zelenskyy also asked a tougher U.S. stand against Russian oil and natural gas exports, which have still been going through despite sanctions and financial penalties on much of the Russian economy.
Lawmakers of both parties were effusive in their praise for the Ukrainian leader after the call, saying they would work to meet his requests for additional support.