Take it fast
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy predicted that if Russia successfully invaded his country, it would invade nearby NATO countries and unleash a war involving the US military. Some conservative commentators have misleadingly claimed that he urged the US to “send their sons and daughters to war for Ukraine and possibly die”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy answered questions from journalists at a press conference on February 24, exactly a year after Russia launched its invasion.
ABC News reporter Ian Pannell asked Zelenskyy to respond to recent US opinion polls that showed a drop in support for aid shipments to Ukraine.
The President’s response has since been taken out of context. An edited version of his comments has been circulating widely on social media among conservative influencers, who falsely claim that Zelenskyy called on the US to “send its sons and daughters to war for Ukraine and possibly die.”
One post claimed he said, “The US will have to send its sons and daughters to fight in Ukraine.”
But Zelenskyy did not call on American soldiers to fight in Ukraine.
Zelenskyy began his remarks by thanking “the American people” for the country’s help so far. He then predicted that if Russia were victorious in Ukraine, it would likely invade one or more of the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Unlike Ukraine, all three countries are members of NATO, an alliance formed after World War II that now consists of 30 countries, including the United States. Article 5 of NATO’s founding document, the North Atlantic Treaty, states that “an attack on any Ally shall be deemed an attack on all Allies”. President Joe Biden has called Article 5 “sacrosanct.”
So an invasion of one of the Baltic States could trigger a response that would involve the American military.
But not necessarily. In a 2022 report, Katherine Yon Ebright of the Brennan Center for Justice wrote that the language of Article 5 was “relatively flexible.” It allows members to choose how to respond to an attack on an ally – which can mean sending equipment, imposing sanctions on the attacker, or engaging in direct military action.
She also wrote that another section of the NATO treaty – Article 11 – stipulates that member countries will implement the agreement “in accordance with their respective constitutional processes.”
“In the United States, that means obtaining the express authorization of Congress, which has sole constitutional authority to declare war and is responsible for military resources and oversight,” she wrote.
Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr., now a professor at Duke University School of Law, has similarly said, “Article 5 should not be read in isolation from Article 11.”
Here are Zelenskyy’s full comments, based on real-time translation at the press conference, with the relevant part highlighted in bold:
Zelenskyy, February 24: I want to thank the American people.
I want to thank all of the Americans who are supporting Ukraine — Congress, the President, the television networks, the journalists, and everyone who has supported us.
And that percentage of Americans, as you mentioned, is increasing. I can only tell you one thing – if you don’t change your mind, if you don’t understand us, if you don’t support Ukraine, you will lose NATO, you will lose the influence of the United States, you will lose the leadership position that they enjoy in the world they enjoy for a very fair reason, and they will lose the support of the country of 40 million people and millions of children. Are American children different from ours? Don’t Americans enjoy the same things as we do? I don’t think we are that different.
Actually, I’m very glad we have bipartisan support, but we hear these messages from time to time and they’re dangerous. There are political leaders who are elected by the people and when this issue is raised, those political leaders have to be responsible and careful because people are looking at them.
Who wants a third world war? Would anyone be willing to take that risk? The US will never abandon NATO member states. If it happens that Ukraine loses due to different opinions and the weakening and depletion of aid, Russia will enter the Baltic States – NATO member states – and then the USA will have to send its sons and daughters just like we send [our] Sons and daughters going to war and they’re going to have to fight because we’re talking about NATO and they’re going to die – God forbid because it’s a terrible thing. I wish the United States peace and Ukrainian support.
Some conservative commentators and media outlets have released an edited clip of the press conference, showing only part of Zelenskyy’s comment, without the context of his expectation of further aggression by Russia against NATO members.
The misleadingly edited clip reads: “The US must send their sons and daughters as much as we do [our] Sons and daughters going to war, and they’re going to have to fight because we’re talking about NATO, and they’re going to die – God forbid, because it’s a terrible thing.”
Many commenters added their own summaries, which were even more misleading.
One wrote: “Zelinsky: Ukraine needs fresh young Americans to help fight the ground war. ‘The US will have to send those of their sons and daughters… to WAR…’ ‘…and they will DIE.’”
Another wrote, “Did Zelensky just call for the sacrifice of America’s sons and daughters?”
But, as we explained, Zelenskyy answered a question about public opinion about Ukrainian aid, and he speculated that without continued support in Ukraine, Russia could prevail and continue to invade NATO countries, which could trigger US military action
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. You can find our previous stories here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.
Office of the President of Ukraine (@PresidentGovUa). “Прес-конференція Президента України, присвячена року з моменту повномасштабного вторгнення Росії.” Youtube. February 24, 2023.
The Telegraph (@telegraph). “Watch in full: Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s press conference on the first anniversary of Ukraine’s war with Russia.” Youtube. February 24, 2023.
Madhani, Aamer, and Emily Swanson. “US public support for Ukraine aid wanes, poll shows.” PBS NewsHour. February 15, 2023.
Organization of the North Atlantic Treaty. member states. Updated October 4, 2022.
Organization of the North Atlantic Treaty. The North Atlantic Treaty. Updated April 10, 2019.
Organization of the North Atlantic Treaty. “Collective Defense and Article 5.” September 20, 2022.
“Remarks by President Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg | Madrid, Spain.” Whitehouse.gov. June 29, 2022.
Yon Ebright, Katherine. Brennan Center for Justice. “NATO Article 5 Collective Defense Obligations Explained.” Updated November 15, 2022.
Dunlap, Charles J. Jr. “Legally, the NATO treaty does not require the US to ‘automatically’ use force to defend allies.” Lawfire, Duke University. July 21, 2016.