President Volodymyr Zelensky is the most respected man on the planet right now. Yesterday, he spoke to legislative bodies in Belgium, London, and Canada’s Parliament, where he got a three-minute standing ovation. Today, Zelensky speaks to a joint session of Congress in the United States, and in an almost unfathomable situation, Zelensky will stare down his first adversaries in a Western capital. Yes, there are other populist movements in Europe, but few are as organized as the hardened MAGA Russian apologists that sit lurking in and out of the United States government.

We already know that Madison Cawthorn has called Zelensky a “thug” and the Ukrainian government “vile” amidst the war. Tom Cotton refused four opportunities to condemn Trump’s “genius” remark regarding Putin. And, the “America First” segment of the GOP has been quick to blame Biden’s “weakness” more so than Putin’s monstrosity for the invasion of Ukraine. All Republicans have used the war as an opportunity to attack Biden’s domestic issues, especially gas prices. Whether out of sincere support for Russia, a need to consider Democrats the ultimate enemy, even in the face of war crimes, or simply finding themselves backed into a Trump-Putin corner, Zelensky will speak to his first legislature with a significant portion that will not or cannot give him unilateral support.

Meanwhile, Zelensky will put serious pressure on Biden to “close the sky,” as he has asked of other NATO countries. A no-fly zone over Ukraine would significantly benefit the tough and determined, but isolated, Ukrainian forces. Of course, one cannot simply declare a no-fly zone, it requires “CAP,” Combat Air Patrol,” with NATO planes ready and expected to shoot down any Russian fighter or bomber they encounter. Similarly, Russian planes will defend themselves and fight, and Russian forces on the ground would be expected to fire at NATO airplanes. For the first time ever, Russia and NATO would be firing shots at each other. Some say it would invite World War III.

And some now say, “No, it won’t.”

The Russian army has proven itself so anemic that, having now bogged itself down in Ukraine, it poses no threat to NATO nations to the north. They will not be invading the Balkans or Poland. Of course, there would be risks, but NATO has taken risks to stop the Russians before, the Berlin Airlift, the Cuban blockade, even recently having U.S. troops in close proximity to Russian troops, firing shots in Syria – though not at each other. Of course, the thought of NATO jets shooting down Russian planes relies upon the presumption that Putin would never resort to nuclear weapons and experts doubt that he would.  Republican hawks, those who won’t bear any responsibility if something goes wrong are quick to use Biden’s reservations as the basis for even more political criticism.

However, it plays out, this will not be a regular speech to a joint session of Congress, Zelensky will not address a body composed of unified support and he will be speaking with greater moral authority (and all the power that comes with it) to the man who is otherwise considered the most powerful man on Earth. Zelensky is not calling to say hello. He is calling to thank the United States and rally NATO, but he is also calling to challenge our commitment to humanity, democracy, freedom, and anti-fascism all to do what he must do to best represent his people, demand that take another step, to show a greater commitment, to stop a holocaust.

The pressure is immense on all sides with the exception of those most likely to yap their mouths with flippant political attacks. Madison Cawthorn did not have a sleepless night. But for everyone else, there will be no “do-overs.” This is their one shot to make the right call and history has already hit “record.”


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