Russia may have already started World War III, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an interview with NBC News on Wednesday.
The outcome of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has yet to be decided, but it’s possible the decision has set off a path to a full-scale global war, Zelenskyy told “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt when asked whether he understood concerns from President Joe Biden about not escalating tensions with or provoking Moscow.
“Nobody knows whether it may have already started. And what is the possibility of this war if Ukraine will fall, in case Ukraine will? It’s very hard to say,” Zelenskyy said. “And we’ve seen this 80 years ago, when the Second World War had started … nobody would be able to predict when the full-scale war would start.”
He further emphasized that the outcome of this war puts the “whole civilization at stake.”
Zelenskyy said the Ukrainian people are “unconquerable” even if Russian forces overtake cities, including the capital Kyiv. Russian forces may occupy the land, but they cannot take Ukrainian’s dignity and love for their country, he said.
“This is what our people have clearly demonstrated,” Zelenskyy said. “Even those settlements that were ruined to ashes by Russian artillery, even those settlements were left unconquered by Russians.”
Zelenskyy gave a virtual address to both chambers of Congress on Wednesday morning, reiterating his push for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. He appealed for more aggressive support from lawmakers and Biden, calling the invasion a “terror that Europe has not seen for 80 years.”
“I have a dream. … I can say, I have a need, a need to protect our sky,” he told Congress, invoking Martin Luther King Jr. “I need your decision, your help, which means exactly the same, the same you feel when you hear the words ‘I have a dream.'”
The hesitance to impose the no-fly zone led Zelenskyy to say Tuesday that he sees no “open door” for Ukraine to join NATO, according to a video of him speaking with military officials posted to Telegram.
Ukraine’s stated desire to join the alliance was one reason Putin used to justify his invasion. A promise to stop pursuing NATO membership is also one of his conditions to end the war.
Ukraine ousted a pro-Kremlin president in 2014, and Putin is driven by a desire to stop Ukraine and his former Soviet neighbors from becoming more closely aligned with the democratic West. Putin annexed Crimea, a peninsula along the Black Sea, officially declaring it a Russian territory in 2014.
Biden dedicated $800 million in new military support for Ukraine on Wednesday, including 800 anti-aircraft systems and 9,000 anti-armor systems. But the president has ruled out sending fighter jets, a request Zelenskyy also brought to Congress as an alternative to the no-fly zone declaration.
Russia maintains an air advantage over Ukrainian resistance, and while Zelenskyy said the choice about whether to send jets remains with Biden, it will send a message to other nations currently “trying to develop their own European ways.”
“There are smaller countries … there are neighboring countries of Ukraine that are former USSR Republic,” Zelenskyy told Holt. “They are watching very attentively to the response to such a treacherous invasion.”
When asked whether he believed the U.S. would become more involved if Russia crossed a “red line” with chemical weapons, Zelesnkyy said that he believed Russia has already crossed “all the red lines.”
“If they’re launching intentionally those missiles against kindergartens, against schools, universities, now, that is a cross of every single line,” he said. “What else should we wait for? For letting Russians kill 200, 300 or 400 children?”
Zelenskyy showed congressional leaders graphic video of the situation, which included Ukrainian children crying and dead bodies being tossed into a mass grave.
Russia has continued its attack on Ukraine for nearly three weeks, though U.S. officials have indicated that the offensive has not progressed as quickly as Putin may have initially hoped.
Kyiv’s mayor imposed a 35-hour curfew that begin Tuesday following deadly strikes targeting residential areas in the city.
Nearly 3 million people have fled Ukraine since the invasion began. Ukrainian authorities estimated thousands of deaths as the country faces an onslaught of bombings of cities and residential areas.
It’s difficult to maintain an accurate death toll because of the constant shelling, but an estimated 2,500 people were killed in the siege on Mariupol last week and another 500 civilian deaths have been counted in Kharkiv since the war began.
U.S. intelligence agencies estimated last week that 2,000 to 4,000 Russian soldiers have been killed.
Diplomatic talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials resumed Tuesday, the fourth round of talks as prior peace negotiations failed to offer significant breakthroughs.
Zelenskyy described the ongoing negotiations as “very difficult” Wednesday.
“Now we have the most difficult stage in the relationship between our countries,” Zelenskyy said. “I can’t even say that we do have any relationship at this point.”