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Ukrainian President Asks Congress to Help Secure Russian-Made Jet Fighters


Ukrainian President

Volodymyr Zelensky

asked for assistance in obtaining more lethal military aid—especially Russian-made jet fighters that Ukrainian pilots can fly—and supported a proposal to ban U.S. imports of Russian oil, in a video call Saturday morning with members of Congress.

There were more than 200 House and Senate members on the call, said people who participated. Mr. Zelensky spoke for about 25 minutes before taking questions.

Senate Minority Leader

Mitch McConnell

(R., Ky.) asked Mr. Zelensky what was one thing he needed most, according to two people on the call. The Ukrainian president replied with the need for jet fighters. He also brought up instituting a no-fly zone over Ukraine, but said, through a translator, “if you can’t do that, at least get me planes,” according to a person on the call.

Ukrainian service members unpacking Javelin antitank missiles last month.



Photo:

VALENTYN OGIRENKO/REUTERS

Eastern European allies are in possession of Russian military jets that potentially could be transferred to Ukraine. Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said that the U.S. should help make possible the transfer of the aircraft. “We must eliminate every obstacle to providing every measure of support to Ukraine to include finding a way for the United States to compensate our Eastern European partners who wish to donate their Soviet-style aircraft to Ukraine,” he said in a statement.

Another lawmaker said in an interview that Congress could direct funds in a pending spending bill to replenish the stockpiles of European allies.

Mr. Zelensky said that the jets were more important than the Stinger antiaircraft missiles that the U.S. has greenlighted.

The request, coming as Congress is finalizing fiscal 2022 spending legislation that is expected to be the vehicle for new U.S. aid to Ukraine, could complicate those negotiations. With the House aiming to pass that legislation before a Wednesday Democratic retreat, and the law funding the government expiring Friday, negotiators must decide whether to specify that $10 billion in additional assistance include provisions to spur the delivery of planes to Ukraine.

“President Zelensky made a desperate plea for Eastern European countries to provide Russian-made planes to Ukraine,” Senate Majority Leader

Chuck Schumer

(D., N.Y.) said in a statement after the call. “These planes are very much needed. And I will do all I can to help the administration to facilitate their transfer.”

One underlying tension is whether arranging the transfer of the jets to Ukraine would amount to a more direct involvement in the conflict. Some lawmakers say it would not. The plea for the planes, as well as drones, has prompted lawmakers from both parties to urge the Biden administration to do more to facilitate the transfer of the Russian jets.

Secretary of State

Antony Blinken,

asked about Ukraine’s request for aircraft, said, “We are talking about and working on everything.” He declined to specifically endorse providing fighter and attack aircraft. But he said, “We are, again, looking at everything, and as I said before, the support for Ukraine not only has been unprecedented, not only is it going to continue—it’s going to increase.”

A White House spokesman said that the U.S. is working with Poland on the issue and consulting with the rest of its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies. “There are a number of challenging practical questions, including how the planes could actually be transferred from Poland to Ukraine,” the spokesman said.

“We are also working on the capabilities we could provide to backfill Poland if it decided to transfer planes to Ukraine.” He said that the U.S. hasn’t opposed the plane transfer, saying it’s a “sovereign decision for any country to make.”

A U.S. defense official said that allied nations are considering providing Ukraine with Russian aircraft, MiG29s and Su-25s. The U.S. military would backfill with American aircraft, but it is unclear how that would work, the official said.

“We are not standing in the way,” the official said.

President Biden has said the U.S. military wouldn’t enter Ukraine. And since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, no U.S. aircraft have flown over Ukraine, the Pentagon said.

Sen.

Lindsey Graham

(R., S.C.) said that planes “the Ukrainians could fly without additional training are sitting waiting to be delivered, but there’s objections and apparently we’re part of the problem.”

Areas seized as of Saturday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Primary refugee crossing locations

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Chernobyl

Not in operation

Controlled by

separatists

Areas seized as of Saturday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Primary refugee crossing locations

Chernobyl

Not in operation

Controlled by

separatists

Areas seized as of Saturday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Primary refugee crossing locations

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Chernobyl

Not in operation

Controlled by

separatists

Areas seized as of Saturday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Primary refugee crossing locations

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

Areas seized as of Saturday

Direction of invasion forces

Controlled by or allied to Russia

Primary refugee crossing locations

Ukraine territory, recognized by Putin as independent

President Biden has said the U.S. wouldn’t fight Russian troops in Ukraine, though the U.S. military has provided weapons. The Biden administration said it would send as much as $350 million in additional military aid, including “lethal defensive assistance.”

The U.S. and NATO have resisted entering the conflict directly. Mr. Zelensky has pushed for a no-fly zone over his country but Mr. Biden and allied leaders have rejected the move as escalatory.

Jens Stoltenberg,

NATO secretary-general, said Friday the organization is a defensive alliance that doesn’t seek conflict with Russia.

One Senate aide said that Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) plans to send a letter to the Pentagon asking it to ship U.S. jet fighters to Eastern European countries that donate the Russian-made jet fighters to Ukraine.

Mr. Zelensky spoke through a translator on the call, using simultaneous translation, so there was little back-and-forth.

At one point, Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) jumped in and asked about banning Russian oil imports, according to two people. Mr. Zelensky agreed the U.S. should stop such purchases.

Mr. Manchin, who chairs the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced a bipartisan bill Thursday that would ban domestic imports of Russian crude oil, petroleum and other energy products, in a step aimed at choking a source of revenue for Russian President

Vladimir Putin

during his invasion of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian president was steady and calm and emphatic at times about what he wanted from the U.S. Lawmakers tuned in from airports, homes and cars, according to a person on the call.

“It was very clear that he’d thought through what he needed,” said Rep.

Jim Himes

(D., Conn.), who added that Mr. Zelensky looked sharp. “He looked better than I look on a Friday evening of a standard week.”

Write to Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com and Lindsay Wise at lindsay.wise@wsj.com

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8



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