Ukraine's President pleads for more weapons with fewer restrictions

Zelenskyy credited American missiles -- and permission to fire them across the border into Russia -- with helping his forces hold off an attack on the city of Kharkiv, stopping a Russian offensive this spring.
Last Updated : 10 July 2024, 14:35 IST

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Washington: President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine arrived in Washington on Tuesday with words of gratitude and praise for American support, and pleas for more weapons and fewer restrictions on using them in his country's war against Russia.

Zelenskyy credited American missiles -- and permission to fire them across the border into Russia -- with helping his forces hold off an attack on the city of Kharkiv, stopping a Russian offensive this spring.

But he asked for other restrictions to be lifted, so that Ukraine could fire at Russian military bases hundreds of miles inside Russia to destroy aircraft that fire weapons and drop bombs that he said were killing civilians and children.

With more US assistance, he said, Ukraine can continue to strike against Russian targets in Crimea and help "push the occupiers" out of the southern part of the country.

There were questions of which version of Zelenskyy would show up in Washington as leaders of NATO members gathered for a summit. Last year, he flew to the NATO summit in Lithuania after making an angry social media post criticizing alliance members for failing to offer a timeline for Ukraine to join the alliance, prompting complaints from the Biden administration and other allies.

There was no sign of anger this year. Zelenskyy praised the United States for its early support in the war and pushed back against those who have started to think that "it's better to delay than act."

"America doesn't shy away from its friends," he said. "It is America that keeps the freedom."

Zelenskyy said the United States, Europe and President Vladimir Putin of Russia were distracted by the coming presidential election in the United States, rather than paying attention to the NATO 75th anniversary summit. But he said it was time to act now.

"It is time to step out of the shadows and make strong decisions work and not to wait for November or any other month," he said.

Zelenskyy said the American president, as leader of the free world, must be "uncompromising in defending democracy."

"Uncompromising against Putin and his country," he added.

A Russian missile strike on a children's hospital Monday that killed dozens of people, Zelenskyy said, was no mistake. "Russia always knows where its missiles hit," he said. "Always."

Zelenskyy spoke at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Washington, an arm of the presidential library, and quoted the 40th president. The choice of venue evoked an older version of Republican foreign policy that prioritized confronting the Soviet Union and supporting like-minded allies.

Roger Zakheim, the Washington director of the institute, said it was a natural stage for Zelenskyy to choose. Zakheim evoked Reagan's speech 40 years ago in France about the importance of US engagement with the world and the right of all people to freedom.

"President Reagan was very clear," Zakheim said in an interview before the speech. "He said, 'Isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.' Those were words true 80 years ago, 40 years ago, and are true today. And that is the stage on which President Zelenskyy is speaking."

Zelenskyy was introduced by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader and one of the strongest Republican backers of Ukraine in Congress.

Zelenskyy avoided directly criticizing former President Donald Trump, who has declared NATO "obsolete" and has threatened to leave the alliance. But Zelenskyy's message was clear, from his choice of venue and his appeal to American citizens: Defending, supporting and supplying Ukraine should be a bipartisan endeavor.

Zelenskyy predicted that no matter which man, President Joe Biden or Trump, was elected in November, "Putin will hate him."

Published 10 July 2024, 14:35 IST

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