Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday reiterated his country’s request for air defense capabilities to assist in its fight against Russia’s ongoing invasion, to include calling the Patriot missile defense system an “extreme priority.” 

“If you would say, ‘Yes, we can give you Patriots,’ I would go myself to the U.S. for them. It’s really important for our people,” Zelenskyy said via English translation during a Yale School of Management discussion. “We have to defend our skies. If my memory serves me right, I’ve been saying that since the first days of the war. Aviation and aerial defense, this is what we lack. We need to defend our skies to defend our children. Russia can do nothing against us on land.”

Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, fire the MIM-104 Patriot to destroy a drone target Jul. 16, 2021, at Camp Growl in Queensland, Australia, during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alyssa Chuluda).

Zelenskyy cited Russia’s ongoing missiles attacks, specifically targeting energy infrastructure, as well as Iran’s move to provide drones to assist Moscow as creating an urgent need for air defense capabilities. 

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) participated in the discussion with Zelenskyy and stated they believe there’s bipartisan support in Congress to include new Ukraine aid supplemental funds as part of the final fiscal year 2023 appropriations bills.

“I want that aid package to be robust militarily and economically. And to my Republican colleagues who don’t want a blank check, that’s fine. I’ll be glad to sit down with you to make sure that the money goes where it should go and we have accountability for the money. But I promise you the majority of Republican senators are fully committed to seeing this through because if we don’t get Ukraine right, there goes Taiwan. And if we don’t get Ukraine right, this war continues in Europe,” Graham said.

Blumenthal asked Zelenskyy specifically about the Raytheon Technologies-built [RTX] Patriots as an option to meet Ukraine’s request for air defense capabilities and also suggested the possibility of redirecting weapons for Saudi Arabia to support Kyiv’s efforts. 

“We should not be talking about diminishing our support. We should be re-doubling our support, particularly when it comes to air defenses, so that your people are protected against this genocidal attack,” Blumenthal said. “What I would suggest is we take some of what we’re sending to Saudi Arabia and redirect it; a halt to the arms to Saudi Arabia and redirect those arms to [Ukraine].”

The U.S. has previously approved providing Raytheon and Norway’s Kongsberg’s jointly developed NASAMS air defense system to Ukraine, which brings together Raytheon’s Sentinel radar and Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles with Kongsberg’s Fire Distribution Center, with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday noting the first two systems are set to be delivered to Kyiv early next month.

“Air defense capabilities have been, and will continue to be, a U.S. priority for Ukraine. As Secretary Austin said, the two initial NASAMS that the United States has committed to providing will be ready for delivery to Ukraine early next month and the United States is working with our Allies to transfer air defense systems of their own to Ukraine,” the Pentagon said in a statement on Friday.

Zelenskyy also noted Ukraine’s continued interest in receiving Abrams tanks to bolster its efforts, with Graham adding that he hopes to see tanks included in future security aid packages. 

“Unfortunately, we haven’t got any tanks from the U.S. We would love to see Abrams [tanks] here, if there would be a possibility or an opportunity. We already know the support that European countries could provide us with in terms of armored vehicles, tanks, etc.” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy’s remarks arrive the same day as the U.S. approved a new $275 million weapons aid package for Ukraine, which includes providing Kyiv with additional munitions for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) launchers and four satellite communications antennas.

The new deal, which is the 24th presidential drawdown package, also covers 500 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds, 2,000 155mm rounds of Remote Anti-Armor Mine Systems, over 1,300 anti-armor systems, 125 Humvees, small arms and more than 2,750,000 rounds of small arms ammunition. 

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters on Friday this is the first time the U.S. is sending these SATCOM antennas to Ukraine. 

“These are SATCOM antennas that are coming off of our shelves. These are not Starlink antennas. Just to level set here, these SATCOM antennas are going to provide additional communications capabilities to the Ukrainians at a critical time but are separate from what Starlink provides,” Singh told reporters. “We’re seeing Ukrainian infrastructure and electrical grids being targeted by the Russians and these antennas provide an additional capability on the ground at a critical time when Ukraine’s infrastructure is being hit. These SATCOM [antennas] are not intended to serve as a substitute for a service like Starlink. They help increase communication efforts on the battlefield.”