Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Scholz following their meeting in Kiev on February 14. Zelensky on Saturday asked the United States to stop importing oil from Russia. File Photo by Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA-EFE
March 5 (UPI) -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for the United States to stop buying Russian oil during a Zoom meeting with members of the U.S. Congress on Saturday morning.
Zelensky, who spoke to bipartisan members of both the House and Senate, also reiterated calls for creating a no-fly zone during the meeting, lawmakers said.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, recounted in a statement after the meeting that Zelensky said stopping the purchase of Russian oil and gas around the world would be one of the most powerful sanctions possible, "even more powerful than" blocking Russia from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication.
Sullivan urged President Joe Biden to "listen to this brave president" and block imports of Russian oil and gas while producing more oil and gas from the United States.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement that 80% of Americans, "including solid majorities" of Republicans and Democrats, want the United States to stop buying Russian oil.
"We need to pass my SPIGOT Act and pursue the pathway to peace that is powered by domestic clean energy," Markey said.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a statement that Congress should mandate that the Biden administration immediately implement an oil and gas embargo on Russia and that Congress will work on an aid package for Ukraine in coming days.
"As President Zelensky told us, boycotting Russian oil and gas would be the most potent sanction we can impose, by far," Cruz said. "It is also the only economic sanction that can tenably and quickly affect Russia's ability to continue financing its aggression."
During the meeting, Zelensky also reiterated his calls to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine just hours after he called NATO "weak" after the alliance rejected a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
On Friday, Zelensky called for the no-fly zone in a televised address as Russian forces pressed on toward the second-largest nuclear facility in Ukraine on Friday after taking control of the largest nuclear power plant in the country earlier in the day.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday called sanctions placed against the country a "declaration of war" and warned that a no-fly zone over Ukraine would make NATO "participants" in it.
U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a statement that he did not support the idea of a no-fly zone over fears it could provoke further war. But he urged the United States to provide Ukraine with planes and helicopters.
"Ukraine needs airpower urgently and America should send it. Zelensky's message is simple: 'close the skies or give us planes,'" Sasse said.
"Let's be clear-eyed about our options: A no-fly zone means sending American pilots into combat against Russian jets and air defenses -- in a battle between nuclear powers that could spiral out of control quickly. But Americans should absolutely send Ukrainians planes, helicopters and" unmanned aerial vehicles.
Sen. Bob Mendez, D-N.J., urged countries including Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Poland to immediately transfer Soviet era-built fighter jets to the Ukrainian air force.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., posted a video message after the meeting in which he said that "labeling Putin a war criminal is the right thing to do, and he thinks would help tremendously."
"There were numerous examples of war crimes provided by President Zelensky," Graham said. "Mayors have been captured, imprisoned and murdered. There's wholesale attacks on civilian targets, random, indiscriminate, and the Putin war machine, in my view, is in full-blown war crimes mode."
According to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Zelensky also provided an update on the status of the fighting in the country -- noting that Russia's Air Force "is having their worst day yet."
Ukrainian defense forces have shot down "multiple" Russian aircraft and have even captured pilots, Rubio said in a statement.
"Weaponizing migration and attacks on nuke plants are akin to a declaration of war too," Rubio added In reference to Putin's comments on Saturday.
"The problem is NATO would quickly annihilate Russia's conventional forces and Putin would then use chemical, biological and non-strategic nukes to freeze the conflict."
European Union leaders attend a summit at the Chateau de Versailles near Paris on March 11, 2022. Photo by the European Union/ UPI | License Photo