Zelensky Quotes Shakespeare, Churchill in Plea to UK Parliament to Protect ‘Ukrainian Skies’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gestures as he speaks during a press conference in
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Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky quoted William Shakespeare and Winston Churchill in an emotional address to both houses of the United Kingdom Parliament which ultimately appealed to British “greatness” to make sure “Ukrainian skies are safe” and to categorise Russia as a “terrorist state”.

The Houses of Commons and Lords received an extraordinary address by the Ukrainian President on Tuesday afternoon, a short speech that expressed the Ukrainian experience of the renewed Russian invasion day-by-day for the past fortnight, and which also appealed to the United Kingdom to take further action.

Citing British cultural and political touchstones, Zelensky said that while Shakespeare’s famed Hamlet “To be, or not to be” soliloquy may have been a matter of debate in Ukraine once, today the answer for him was emphatically now “definitely yes, to be”. The President also paraphrased Winston Churchill’s famous ‘we shall fight them’ speech, given in the House of Commons on June 4th, 1940 when German invasion seemed likely.

Just weeks after the British Army had its disastrous retreat across the English Channel from France, an episode remembered for the rag-tag fleet of small ships which rescued soldiers from the beached of Dunkirk, immense heroism but also the loss of most of the Army’s modern equipment, Churchill had said:

…we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…

As the International Churchill Society notes, this speech itself was a 1940 appeal to the United States for aid. Zelensky quoted the words in his own address Tuesday, and added “I would add we will fight on the banks of the Dnieper”.

President Zelensky was also making his British Parliament speech to appeal for aid. Appealing to the “greatness of your country”, Zelensky asked that Britain “make sure our Ukranian skies are safe”, a major request given the magnitude of the task implied.

I am very grateful to you, Boris, please increase the pressure of sanctions against [Russia], and please recognise it as a terrorist state. Please make sure our Ukranian skies are safe, Please make sure that you do what needs to be done, what is [stipulated] by the greatness of your country.

Whether appealing for the loan of warplanes — such plans have been widely discussed by Ukraine, the EU, and the United States in recent days, but dismissed as fake news by the countries which were actually cited as the donors — or enforcing a no-fly zone against Russia in Ukrainian airspace, both are widely perceived as tantamount to going to war with the Russian Federation.

While supplying Ukraine with defensive equipment has been a cause readily adopted by many NATO and EU members, going so far as providing major offensive equipment — like jet fighters — seems to have emerged as a red line. After the EU and Ukraine suddenly announced Poland would be giving jets to Kyiv last week, Poland — which gave all impression of having not actually been consulted in the future of its own air force — responded that this would not happen as “that would open a military interference in the Ukrainian conflict… We are not joining that conflict.”

Rumours of the plan have not gone away and are still being discussed in the U.S., although there is of yet no indication that the Polish position on not being dragged into a war with Russia has shifted. The British defence secretary continued to keep the story alive Tuesday evening, saying “I would support the Poles and whatever choice they make” on the matter.

More dramatic is the possibility that in pleading with Britain to “make sure our Ukranian skies are safe” is actually another call for a No-Fly Zone to be enforced in Ukrainian airspace, a strategy that could deny air support to Russian forces, but which would also bring NATO militaries into direct, active combat with the Russian Federation. Zelensky has repeatedly asked for a No-Fly Zone in the past week but, as some have pointed out, launching such a project would herald the beginning of the third world war.

Zelensky has even criticised NATO as being “weak” for not wanting to enter the conflict so actively with combat air patrols over Kyiv.

Also on Zelensky’s list of appeals was for the United Kingdom to recognise Russia as a “terrorist state“. This is, perhaps, the most likely of the options presented: Britain already basically considers Russian actions like the attempted assassination of a Russian defector on British soil using chemical weapons in 2018 as state-sponsored terrorism.

Boris Johnson was the first of the British political leaders to respond to the address in the Commons on Tuesday. Thanking Zelensky for his words, Johnson replied that: “I think today, one of the proudest boasts in the free world is: Ya Ukrainets’ – “I am a Ukrainian”.”

Indicating he was content to keep Britain’s support for Ukraine in the realms of defensive, rather than offensive weaponry, the Prime Minister continued: “I know I speak for the House when I say that Britain and our allies are determined to press on, to press on with supplying our Ukrainian friends with the weapons they need to defend their homeland as they deserve.”

As for Russia, Johnson said the UK would continue to work with partners to “tighten the economic noose” around Vladimir Putin.


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