The day before Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy swept into the United States and delivered an impassioned speech to Congress, he made a quiet phone call to one of the country’s most powerful Republicans: Mitch McConnell.
Among his urgent requests: convince the Senate minority leader to help turn over the seized fortunes of Russian oligarchs — including the proceeds of their yachts, planes and mansions — to help rebuild the Ukraine president’s devastated country.
Two days later, with a rush of Republican support, the wartime leader got his wish.
A special provision was tucked into the government’s massive, end-of-the-year spending bill on Dec. 22 to direct the wealth from some of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies to the country that he invaded.
Three confidential sources, who spoke to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on the condition of anonymity, said the rare call to the veteran political operator — just hours after Mr. Zelenskyy huddled on the front lines with his soldiers in eastern Ukraine — was part of a back-channel effort to shore up critical support for the besieged country from its most powerful ally.
The personal appeal by the 44-year-old Ukraine leader came as support for Ukraine’s military began to run into opposition by some GOP congressional members and millions of Ukrainian citizens continued to be left without heat or running water from the destruction of the nation’s infrastructure by relentless Russian airstrikes. [Continue reading…]