Harsh sanctions, military support are key to Ukraine's defense, former amb to Ukraine says
Former US Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor joined The World's host Marco Werman to discuss Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's emotional speech to US Congress and the American response so far to Russia's invasion into Ukraine.
In this image provided by the US Air Force, pallets of ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine are loaded on a plane by members from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron during a foreign military sales mission at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, on Jan. 30, 2022.
Strong nations are "brave and ready to fight for the life of its citizens and citizens of the world, for human rights, for freedom, for the right to live decently and to die when your time comes, and not when it's wanted by someone else — by your neighbor," Zelenskiy told lawmakers.
Zelenskiy specifically asked for the US to help close Ukraine's airspace by imposing a "no-fly" zone.
US President Joe Biden, speaking later in the day, said the US would continue to support Ukraine with more weapons.
"We are united in our abhorrence of Putin's depraved onslaught, and we're going to continue to have their backs as they fight for their freedom, their democracy, their very survival," Biden said.
But Biden did not directly address Zelenskiy's request for a no-fly zone.
Former US Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor joined The World's host Marco Werman to discuss Zelenskiy's speech and the US' response so far to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Marco Werman: There was also the graphic video that Zelenskiy played for American lawmakers. He evoked Pearl Harbor, 9/11. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. Will any of his appeal sway Washington to get more directly involved in the war in Ukraine?
Amb. William Taylor: We are directly involved. The United States is directly involved — directly involved in several respects. One is the provision of a lot of this equipment, the weapons that has been flowing in there since 2014, has dramatically accelerated and then dramatically accelerated again over the past three weeks. In terms of direct involvement with US forces, certainly not on the ground — there's a big debate, and President Zelenskiy raised it again today about whether or not US forces should be in the air above above Ukraine, and that's apparently not going to happen. There are other ways that President Zelenskiy suggested that we could provide that kind of assistance. but, directly involved? Yes, we're directly involved.
Zelenskiy's big wish for US involvement is creating that non-fly zone, trying to prevent Russian aircraft from flying over Ukraine. Is closing the airspace above Ukraine realistic?
It is realistic, actually. You can do it in several ways. What we've all been thinking about and kind of picturing in our mind is US Air Force or NATO Air Force pilots manning jets above Ukraine. That's one way to do it. But there are other ways to do it. There are weapons systems, the ground-to-air anti-aircraft, anti-ballistic missile, anti-missile defenses — there are lots of different ways to to protect the Ukrainian airspace and to defend against intrusions into the Ukrainian airspace that don't require US Air Force pilots to go over the territory of Ukraine. So, that can be done. And again, that's what President Zelenskiy hinted at. I mean, he kind of recognized — more than hinted — he recognized that it's very difficult and probably impossible for the United States to send its pilots across the border into into Ukraine.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy himself seemed to walk this fine line this morning, perhaps already aware that a no-fly zone imposed by the West is a nonstarter. So, if not a no-fly zone, what is the main thing Zelenskiy needs from the US right now?
He needs continued dramatic flow of anti-aircraft missiles, the shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft missiles, called stingers. And he needs a dramatic increase in the flow of anti-tank weapons, and those are called javelins, that are man portable and fired from the shoulder and extremely effective against these Russian tanks. He also mentioned specifically what I mentioned earlier, that is the ground-to-air, anti-aircraft, weapons and anti-missile weapons. It turns out, of course, that the majority of the shelling going into these cities — and it's outrageous — it is barbaric — it's criminal — and most of that is not coming from Russian aircraft. Most of that is coming from ballistic missiles and cruise missiles and long-range artillery and some of that can be knocked out of the sky.
In the list of hardware and equipment and weapons that President Biden went down in his comments later in the day, I mean, guns, anti-tank weapons, mortar rounds, 20 million rounds of ammunition. Did you hear him responding directly to Zelenskiy's wishlist earlier in the day?
I did. I did. I thought he was clear about the anti-aircraft systems. He mentioned 800 anti-aircraft systems, without being specific about which kinds there were, but that clearly addresses President Zelenskiy's concern about the sky.
President Biden made his remarks a few hours after Zelenskiy spoke. What was his primary message, in your view?
I think his primary message was, "We are with you, President Zelenskiy. You are fighting our fight. You are fighting for the things that we, the United States, believe in. Your message, President Zelenskiy, got through. We heard you. Americans heard you. The Congress heard you. American people are supporting you overwhelmingly and we are going to continue that support and it's going to be solid. It's going to be specific and we will continue." The other thing he mentioned a couple of times was that, "We will continue for the duration." He said this could be a long fight. He hoped it's not, but he said, "We are with you, Ukrainians, for the duration."
Yeah, that was an interesting line. I mean, Biden almost seemed to prepare Americans for what he said could be a long and difficult struggle. What do you think he was telegraphing?
So, one of the things he was acknowledging was the Ukrainians' determination not to give in, in any circumstances. We know that the Russian military is very big. It doesn't appear so far to be very good — particularly on the ground — in particular, around Kyiv, and some of these other large cities. But nonetheless, it's very big and it can go for a long time. It's a very big force. And if it does succeed in breaking through in some of these cities, the Ukrainians will continue to fight no matter what. And that, I think, is what President Biden may have been talking about when he said this could be a long ride.
In your view, what has been the most effective pressure point the US has used on Russia, up to now?
The incredible sanctions, the harsh sanctions, the likes of which no country has ever seen. No country has had their central bank shut down. Part of what President Zelenskiy said was, I think, useful, too, which was — keep putting them on. "Every week," I think he said, "put a new tranche of sanctions on a new group." There are still banks that are still able to deal with SWIFT, and those can go. Those can be knocked out of SWIFT. And that — combined with the continued support for the Ukrainian military — unity, strong sanctions and strong support for the Ukraine military — that's been key.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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