What Zelensky will say to Congress and how the US should respond
All eyes are on Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zalensky as he is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress Wednesday via video link at the U.S. Capitol.
It is expected that he will make a broad and strident call for more assistance in fending off further Russian incursions in his country. Among the requests, Zelensky is expected to repeat his call for NATO to impose a no-fly zone. This must be resisted. It would mean U.S. planes going into action against Russia — in effect, standing in as the Ukrainian air force. They would be shot down by Russian anti-aircraft missile batteries stationed on Russian soil, which have the range to cover much of Ukraine.
Furthermore, if the U.S. responded by attacking those batteries, Russia would most probably fire missiles at American air bases in Poland and other NATO members. Do we really want the two largest nuclear powers, with the ability to wipe out humanity, to start firing missiles at each other?
Zelensky’s demands to supply fighter jets should also be rejected. Given Russian air superiority, they would be quickly shot down without doing much good. The present Western supplies of shoulder-fired anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles are in fact exactly what the Ukrainian forces need for urban warfare, are doing great damage to the Russian forces, and should be continued. There is no need for escalation.
As argued in two op-eds in the Washington Post today, sooner or later this war will end in a compromise peace in which Moscow will have to give up its maximal aims but Ukraine will also have to make certain concessions. Complete Russian victory or complete Russian defeat are both equally unlikely. The Biden administration therefore needs to talk intensively with President Zelensky about the possible terms of such a peace agreement.
As I have written before, U.S. and Western sanctions should be used to support the peace process and compel Russia to end its aggression and reach an agreement, not to bring about regime change in Russia. Otherwise the war in Ukraine and the resulting global economic crisis will go on for many years, with terrible damage and unpredictable consequences.
The Biden administration and all responsible members of Congress should tell Zelensky honestly that he cannot expect Washington to go to war with Russia. There is a shameful history going back to Georgia in 2008 of Americans making quasi-promises of military aid that they had no real intention of ever fulfilling, thereby encouraging countries to take disastrously uncompromising positions.