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Zelensky Repeats Need for Earlier Sanctions in Virtual Meeting with Lawmakers, as Certain Demands Slowly Met

Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

Update:

As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had requested earlier on Saturday with U.S. lawmakers, Visa and Mastercard have cut off their operations in Russia, according to a FOX Business report by Andrew Mark Miller.

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Original:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky doubled down on his 'I told you so' language on sanctions during a Saturday morning virtual meeting with 280 U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives. Zelensky had been urging the United States and other western countries to impose sanctions for months as a way to prevent the Russian invasion of his country. In fact, he even predicted that the invasion would not have happened otherwise.

A Fox News report from earlier on Saturday, citing several senators as well as Senate sources, has more details, including about these particular comments:

The Ukrainian president also told senators, "If you had started sanctions months ago, there would not have been war," according to a source within the Senate. 

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., reacted to that comment on Fox News Channel and explained that sanctions work best when they are in coordination with allies, but the problem was U.S. allies did not believe Putin was going to invade, like the U.S. was insisting. 

Kaine said he had never seen "a wider gulf between the US and our allies" prior to the invasion when it came to Putin's intentions. 

"Yes, earlier sanctions might have worked better," Kaine told Fox News Channel. "But we weren't on the same page until the invasion happened."  

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Such was not the talking point communicated by the Biden administration, however. In several Sunday show appearances throughout this year so far, Secretary of State Antony Blinken resisted calls for sanctions, claiming he did not want them to lose their deterrent effect. This was repeated by other administration officials, such as Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby. 

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), in his response reacting to such comments, appeared to suggest he was blaming a lack of coordinated effort between the United States and other allies. Once sanctions did come, they came after European nations had already acted, such as President Joe Biden announcing sanctions on Nord Stream 2 last Wednesday, after Germany had already done so. 

Further, Biden himself's claim during last Thursday's national address about Putin's invasion of Ukraine poured water on Blinken's narrative. The president told a reporter that "no one expected the sanctions to prevent anything from happening," and acknowledged that "this is going to take time," hence Zelensky had called for sanctions sooner.

Zelensky, acknowledging his appreciation for what assistance and sanctions he has received at this point, also told Fox News foreign correspondent Trey Yingst that it was a "pity" that help from the Biden administration "began after the beginning of this war."

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Even as the war has already been started, there's still room for more sanctions, Zelensky believes. As the Fox News report also mentions that Zelensky "told senators that he needs more lethal aid to push back on Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Senate source said. He also demanded the U.S. cut off Visa and Mastercard in Russia and that the U.S. must embargo Russian oil."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Friday introduced the Energy Freedom Act, which will secure such energy independence by making energy projects and pipelines far easier, and in doing so, charged that "President Biden has imposed more restrictions on U.S. oil companies than he has on Russian oil."

The United States may be standing in the way of other countries providing further aid, though:

Zelenskyy said Poland is ready to send planes, specifically Russian-made MiGs which Ukrainians can fly, but the U.S. had not signed off because of fear it would be seen as an escalation, a source told Fox News. The problem, the source said, is there are no clear parameters for what is an act of war, what triggers Article 5 provision of the NATO alliance that could bring all allies into a war with Russia. 

"President Zelenskyy made a desperate plea for Eastern European countries to provide Russian-made planes to Ukraine," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. "These planes are very much needed. And I will do all I can to help the administration to facilitate their transfer." 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also said the U.S. is standing in the way of "other NATO nations sending MiG’s," in a video he posted after the Zelenskyy call.

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Not only did Zelensky lament the United States not imposing more sanctions, but NATO turned down his pleadings for a no-fly zone. 

"All the people who will die starting from this day will also die because of you. Because of your weakness, because of your disunity," he said about NATO on a Friday morning video address, highlighted by Axios' Zachary Basu. "His emotional appeal to EU leaders in a Zoom session last week helped contribute to their decision to impose unprecedented on sanctions, and he'll hope to have the same effect on senators with regards to a no-fly zone," Basu also wrote.

As Landon reported earlier on Saturday, Putin has also reacted to the question of a no-fly zone. "Any moves in such direction will be seen by us as participation in an armed conflict by the country that will create threats to our servicemen," the Russian president warned.

Once neutral nations have already gotten involved in other ways, such as Switzerland, by imposing sanctions on Russia. 

On Friday, "74% of Americans" was trending in reference to the 74 percent of Americans, who, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday, believe NATO should impose a no-fly zone. There's even stronger support when it comes to the view that the United States should stop buying Russian oil, with 80 percent saying so.

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The Fox News report also cited the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as pointing out that the Biden administration is also requesting at least $10 billion in new aid to send to Ukraine. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will take it up for next week, when lawmakers must also decide about funding the government, as the continuing resolution (CR) runs out on March 11.

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