Ukrainian forces need more weapons, ambassador warns senators

Ukrainian ambassador Oksana Markarova told a bipartisan group of senators Monday that her country needs more help from the United States and could run out of military supplies to fend off a Russian invasion, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting in the Capitol.   

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who attended the meeting with roughly a dozen Republican and Democratic colleagues, said everyone in the room was unified in support of doing more for the country, which Russian troops invaded Thursday on several fronts.  

“It’s no secret they need more help. They’ve got the weapons they need right now but they’re going to run out of what they need soon so we’ve got to get a supplemental [spending bill] passed quickly,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters after the meeting.   

Murphy said a looming humanitarian crisis along the Polish-Ukrainian border and dwindling military supplies are putting pressure on Congress to act quickly.  

Senators say the need to pass an emergency spending bill to provide weapons and humanitarian aid is becoming more important than passing sanctions legislation, something that senators were negotiating before the Presidents’ Day recess.  

“I think you’re talking about something in the neighborhood of $10 billion to do the job,” said Murphy, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “This is the most dangerous moment since the Cuban missile crisis.”  

Markarova confirmed reports that Russian forces are increasingly targeting civilian buildings and warned that civilian casualties are likely to mount.   

“She talked about two five-story buildings being hit today full of civilians,” Murphy said.  

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who also attended the meeting, said Ukrainian forces are “well-organized, doing the best they can but they need additional help.”  

“They’re managing their equipment as best they can. They do need more help. Absolutely. They certainly need more anti-tank and anti-aircraft type equipment because the numbers from Russia are so large,” he said.  

Other Ukrainian leaders on Monday pressed the House Ukrainian Caucus to back a no-fly zone over the country, warning that casualties could mushroom without stronger foreign intervention. 

However, senators who spoke to reporters after meeting with Markarova said they did not hear her request that the U.S. and its NATO allies impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which could risk a direct military confrontation with U.S. forces.  

Murphy earlier in the day warned that trying to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine would be dangerous.  

“There’s been a lot of loose talk from smart people about ‘close air support’ and ‘no fly zones’ for Ukraine. Let’s just be clear what that is — the U.S. and Russia at war. It’s a bad idea and Congress would never authorize it,” he tweeted.  

Murphy later told reporters that the military conflict could quickly escalate in a dangerous way.  

Schumer after the meeting said there’s strong bipartisan support to help Ukraine fend off the Russian invaders.  

“In that room, from one end to the other, we want to help Ukraine in every way that we can and they’re valiant. They’re amazing and we’re exploring all the ways that we can help them,” he said. 

But one major potential complication is the need to pass an omnibus spending bill to fund the U.S. federal government beyond March 11.  

“The problem is we need a budget to get a supplemental,” Murphy said. “We’ve got to get serious in the next couple days about getting a budget done so that we can have a supplemental to that budget.”  

“I’m worried that our petty fights over the border are going to prevent us from getting a deal on a budget and thus a deal on [the] supplemental [spending bill for Ukraine,]” he added. 

That could delay congressional action on more assistance for Ukraine.  

Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top-ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said he wants a supplemental spending package for Ukraine to move separately from an omnibus spending package.  

“I think it ought not be part of the omnibus but ought to be moving at the same time. Because it’s a separate thing, we’re talking about emergency money as opposed to the regular order,” he said.   

Asked if the omnibus spending package can get done by the March 11 deadline, Shelby said, “I don’t know.” 

“We’re still talking. We’re making progress. Sometimes it’s a step forward and a step sideways,” he said.  

Tags Ben Cardin Charles Schumer Chris Murphy No-fly zone Oksana Markarova Richard Shelby Russia-Ukraine conflict
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