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After Zelenskyy speech, King says world faces ‘most dangerous moment’ since Cuban missile crisis

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a virtual address to Congress by video at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022.
Drew Angerer/AP
Pool Getty Images North America
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a virtual address to Congress by video at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022.

Maine Sen. Angus King said Wednesday that he was moved by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's speech to Congress and that he supports more assistance for Ukraine. But King added that he still can't support Zelenskyy's request for a no-fly zone over Ukraine because of the real possibility of a broader conflict between nuclear powers.

Speaking to reporters during a virtual press conference, King said the Ukrainian president was “very effective” in comparing the Russian attacks on Ukraine to the trauma the United States endured at Pearl Harbor and on September 11th. He said members of Congress were hoping to hear a speech that would strengthen their resolve to continue assisting Ukrainians “and that happened – there was a collective exhalation after the speech and a lot of applause.” The Maine independent also called Zelenskyy a "symbol of freedom and democracy and resistance to tyranny for the whole world."

But King said the world is in a perilous place given Russian President Vladimir Putin's potential willingness to use nuclear weapons.

"The danger is that we've got a dictator who's trapped, who is cornered, and Putin is therefore that much more dangerous,” King told reporters. “I believe this is the most dangerous moment, right now, this week, since the Cuban Missile Crisis."

During his speech, Zelenskyy repeated his urgent request that the U.S. and allies enforce a no-fly zone above Ukrainian air space to help protect his citizens from aerial bombardment. Much of the responsibility for enforcing that no-fly zone – and thereby engaging Russian fighter jets – would likely fall to the U.S. military, bringing the two nuclear-armed rivals even closer to war. King said he believes the anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons being supplied to Ukraine are arguably more effective than a no-fly zone, however, because much of the destruction across Ukraine comes from mortars, ground-launched missiles and tanks rather than Russian planes.

But King added that President Biden's National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, sent an important message Wednesday when he warned his Russian counterpart that use of chemical or biological weapons could spark an even stronger response from the United States. He didn't say what that response might be.

"The hard moment for us will be if the Russians escalate to use chemical or biological weapons or if they increase their attacks on civilians to the point where the world just can't stand by,” King said. “I hope it doesn't reach that point. But I know we are prepared for whatever eventuality."

Both King and fellow Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee that receives periodic classified briefings on the situation in Ukraine.