Ukraine President Zelenskyy Will Address Congress: What He Wants vs. What He’ll Get

From Politico Playbook:

ZELENSKYY SPEAKS — Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY will address Congress virtually at 9 a.m. today.

The headlines will likely focus on the red lines that President JOE BIDEN won’t cross: Zelenskyy’s request for a no-fly zone and the transfer of Polish MiGs.

But the debate has shifted. 

WHAT ZELENSKYY WILL SAY — Betsy Woodruff Swan interviews DANIEL VAJDICH, a longtime lobbyist for Ukrainian interests, who says “he has consulted with Zelenskyy’s advisers about the speech.”

“Zelenskyy is going to express gratitude to the U.S. for what it’s done to support Ukraine and punish Russia, but he’s also going to name and shame, or at least shame, and rightly so,” he tells Betsy.

More from Vajdich: “Those in the Biden administration who advocated for minimizing security assistance to Ukraine before the invasion were wrong then and they’re wrong now in refusing to provide the Ukrainians with the support they need … Without naming anyone explicitly, Zelenskyy will call on these people to wake up before it’s too late.” For more from Vajdich, listen to our interview on the latest episode of “Playbook Deep Dive”

The White House reacted a bit testily to Vajdich’s preview. “We have no idea what this quote is referencing,” NSC spokeswoman EMILY HORNE said. “The fact is President Biden authorized a record amount of security assistance over the past year to Ukraine, $1.2 billion, including $650 million before Russia’s invasion.”

Shortly after Betsy’s piece went live, the WSJ reported that Biden would announce another $1 billion in security assistance to Ukraine today after Zelenskyy speaks. But the devil will be in the details.

— First, the $1 billion figure includes $200 million in previously appropriated funds that Biden already announced over the weekend, and $800 million in new funds from the $13.6 billion aid package signed into law on Tuesday. But that $13.6 billion figure is a bit misleading. According to a House of Representatives fact sheet, only $3.5 billion of it is for military aid to Ukraine (“to replenish U.S. stocks of equipment sent to Ukraine through drawdown”).

— Second, the debate over a no-fly zone and Polish MiGs has obscured the fact that the real fight in Congress is now over whether to facilitate the transfer to Ukraine of long range surface to-air-missiles, such as S-300s, which three NATO countries — Bulgaria, Greece and Slovakia — all have.

There is nothing Zelenskyy can say today that will change Biden’s mind about a no-fly zone or the transfer of the Polish MiGs — administration officials repeatedly emphasized that point on Tuesday. But there is increasing pressure on Biden to help beef up Ukrainian air defenses beyond Stingers and Javelins, and behind the scenes, Zelenskyy’s wish list is more realistic than his public remarks have suggested.

The NYT reports : “Ukrainian officials plan to present the United States with a list of military equipment they need, including armed drones and mobile air-defense systems, as Mr. Zelenskyy addresses Congress, according to two European diplomats briefed on the request. Beyond the MIG fighter planes, Ukrainian officials have crafted a list of additional matériel the Biden administration might be more willing to give, one of the diplomats said.”

— Other items on the list, per the Times: more Stingers and Javelins, “long-range, anti-ship missiles, improved satellite navigation technology, tactical military radios, communications jamming equipment and other electronic warfare equipment.”

BUT HE STILL MAY SHAME BIDEN A BIT — Zelenskyy addressed the U.K. parliament last week and the Canadian parliament Tuesday. His approach is to prick the conscience of his audience by bringing the horror of the war home to his audience and asking them to imagine Russian bombs striking famous monuments, like the CN Tower in Toronto, and then shaming leaders for expressing solidarity with Ukraine without fufilling his most urgent requests.

Here’s how he did it with Canadian PM JUSTIN TRUDEAU on Tuesday :

“I know that you support Ukraine, sincerely, effectively. We are friends with Justin. But I want you to understand me, and to feel it. Feel what we feel. Feel how we want to live. And how we want to win. Win for life.

“I want you to feel what it’s like when you call your friends and say: ‘Close the sky, stop the shelling. No matter which way, just do it. Stop the bombing. How many more missiles must fall on our cities?’ And in response, you hear that someone does not want to do it … But they are deeply concerned!”

“‘Then give us planes,’ we tell our partners. They answer: ‘Soon. Be patient a little.’ Everyone is deeply concerned. They just don’t want to.”

HOW ZELENSKYY CONQUERED CONGRESS — Andrew Desiderio traces the history of Zelenskyy’s three-year effort lobbying Congress. Before the war, his efforts were a bit clumsy, and he ran afoul of the Biden administration when he backed Sen. TED CRUZ’s (R-Texas) legislation to sanction the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Since the war, lawmakers have tripped over each other to satisfy Zelenskyy’s requests, and Biden has generally followed along:

“Through his private Zoom meetings with lawmakers and his dramatic public pleas, Zelenskyy got Capitol Hill on board for additional military assistance and a ban on Russian oil imports within days — unheard-of speed for Congress.”

— Said Sen. JOHN BARRASSO (R-Wyo.): “It does seem to me that the administration has to be dragged along and pushed to do the right thing … Zelenskyy’s courageous leadership is making a significant difference.”

More on Ukraine:

Dan Balz calls Zelenskyy “a beacon to the world, a wartime leader rallying his country, a symbol of courage in the face of personal danger, a politician who has shown anew the power of words and language.”

Bret Stephens argues : “Arming Ukraine with Javelin and Stinger missiles has wounded and embarrassed the Russian military. Providing Kyiv with MIG-29 fighter jets and other potentially game-changing weapon systems could help turn the tide. Refusing to do so may only prolong Ukraine’s agony.”

Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN told NPR in an interview that just posted “that U.S. sanctions against Russia are ‘not designed to be permanent,’ and that they could ‘go away’ if Russia should change its behavior. But he said any Russian pullback would have to be, ‘in effect, irreversible.’”

David Ignatius has an important piece about the diplomatic track that includes this revelation: “Diplomats have been working overtime this past week to craft a formula for a neutral Ukraine on the model of Austria, whose security would be guaranteed by Germany, France, Russia, the United States and perhaps other nations. This formula would reflect a major concession by Putin, but it could also diminish the heroic status of President Volodymyr Zelensky. Many Ukrainians would argue that their people didn’t fight and die to achieve neutrality.”

The latest intelligence update from the U.K. government, posted early this morning, says “Russian forces are struggling to overcome the challenges posed by Ukraine’s terrain.” On the ground Russian vehicles don’t often venture off-road, and in the skies “Russia’s continued failure to gain control of the air has drastically limited their ability to effectively use air manoeuvre, further limiting their options.”

— Fox News mourned the death of two beloved colleaguescovering the war in Ukraine: Pierre Zakrzewski, a cameraman, and Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, a consultant who was 24 years old.

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