WASHINGTON ― Ukraine’s defense minister made a direct plea to the U.S. Congress on Thursday to send his besieged nation anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles through Poland to help it repel Russia’s military assault on Ukraine.
Defense Minister Alexey Reznikov, in a video dated Thursday and posted to YouTube by Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., said Ukrainian forces are protecting Europe and would fight for their own country but need support.
“We need as much Stinger [anti-aircraft] and anti-tank weapons as possible,” Reznikov said, seated at a conference table with a Ukrainian flag behind him. “In order to provide for reliable procurement of equipment, you may deliver it to Poland. From there we will transport them across the land and quickly saturate our defense.”
Reznikov’s video surfaced hours after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending troops and tanks from multiple directions in a move that could rewrite the world’s geopolitical landscape.
Reznikov cast the fight between democratic Ukraine and authoritarian Russia as “combat between light and darkness,” and said Ukraine’s geographic borders had become “the borders between freedom and slavery, democracy and tyranny.”
Ukraine’s government has pleaded for help as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee. Ukrainian officials said their forces were battling Russians on multiple fronts, and had lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who earlier cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law, described Russian forces advancing on a series fronts, including a “difficult situation” developing in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, just over 20 kilometers away from the eastern border with Russia, and Russian troops slowly advancing from the north on the city of Chernihiv.
He said a Russian airborne unit at an airport just outside Kyiv, the capital, was being destroyed. He also appealed to global leaders, saying that “if you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer a powerful assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door.”
U.S. officials had sought to deter a Russia invasion with diplomacy, economic sanctions and warnings that Ukraine’s forces would be tougher than in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea. Since 2014, the U.S. has committed more than $2.7 billion in security assistance to build the capacity of Ukraine’s forces, including more than $650 million in 2021 alone.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other officials had said Washington will continue sending American Javelin anti-tank weapons and other aid to Ukraine, even if Russia expands its invasion, but discussions about the logistics were still underway on Wednesday.
On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled new sanctions and announced new deployments of ground and air forces along NATO’s eastern border with Russia, reiterating that U.S. troops would not engage in direct conflict with Russian forces.
U.S. lawmakers have condemned the invasion, but they’ve been divided on next steps. Many had called for ratcheting sanctions while fewer spoke to the idea of Congress drafting supplemental spending legislation to address the crisis.
One of them, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Twitter that he’d told Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, “there is broad bipartisan support for an emergency supplemental to include aid to the Ukrainian people and Ukrainian military.”
Speaking to reporters in Washington on Thursday morning, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said that all Ukrainians would resist Russia’s invasion of their country and called for a tough international answer to the assault.
While the account couldn’t be verified, she said that 40 Ukrainian servicemen and dozens of civilians died in the attacks, while Ukrainian forces had destroyed two Russian helicopters, seven other Russian aircraft and that a Russian platoon had surrendered.
“Russia is the only country and is solely responsible for what is going on. They have attacked us. They have put our civilians at risk right now. We’re doing everything to save every life in Ukraine, but also, we’re doing everything possible to defend our country.”
She called for Russia to face the stiffest economic sanctions and for countries to sever diplomatic relations with Moscow, as Ukraine did after the invasion.
Markarova also called for Western military aid to Ukraine to continue and said the country needs air defense capabilities. She acknowledged supplying Ukraine would be “more difficult than it was before.”
“But it’s possible, and that why call on all of our friends and allies not only to continue providing us with the military support, defensive support, but also to increase it. We need to defend our country,” she said.
With reporting by The Associated Press.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.