Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took an apparent shot at President Joe Biden on Saturday, telling members of Congress that inaction from the Biden administration in the face of Russian aggression enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin.
What are the details?
During a video conference attended by more than 280 members of the U.S. House and Senate, Zelenskyy claimed that Russia would not have invaded his country had the U.S. demonstrated its strength on the world stage.
"If you had started sanctions months ago, there would not have been war," Zelenskyy said.
Just days before Russia launched its full-scale invasion, the Biden administration defended its decision not to enact sanctions on Moscow despite clear warning signs of an impending invasion. Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed at the time that enacting sanctions would essentially mean the U.S. government was surrendering its leverage over Russia because sanctions are meant "to try to deter Russia from going to war." Obviously, withholding sanctions failed.
Still, in his call with American lawmakers, Zelenskyy urged the U.S. government to issue increasingly harsh sanctions against Moscow, including a ban on Russian oil, and pleaded the U.S. to help Ukraine secure more fighter jets for its air force.
"He said repeatedly that an embargo on Russia and particularly their oil and natural gas, was absolutely critical," Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) later told Fox News.
According to the Washington Post, Zelenskyy stopped short of calling for an outright no-fly zone, but repeatedly said that victory for Ukraine would mean winning the air war.
"Ukraine needs airpower urgently and America should send it. Zelensky’s message is simple: ‘close the skies or give us planes,'" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a statement after the call.
How is the US responding?
The Biden administration has thus far refused to ban imports of Russian oil, citing domestic energy needs and skyrocketing gas prices.
However, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support cutting off Russian oil. "Ban it," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week, while Sen. Dick Durban, the No. 2 Senate Democrat said, "It just infuriates me to think that we are dependent on Russian gas and oil."
Blinken finally said on Sunday the Biden administration is considering banning Russian oil, just one day after Axios reported that Biden officials had pressured Senate Democrats not to support bipartisan legislation that would ban imports of Russian oil.
Meanwhile, Blinken revealed Sunday NATO has received the "green light" to send more fighter jets to Ukraine, but a no-fly zone remains out of the question over fears it would further escalate the war.
Putin has said that imposing a no-fly zone would be viewed by Moscow as participation in the war.