** Zelensky calls Putin a ‘nobody’
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has dismissed his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, as a “nobody” who is not worth talking with. The Ukrainian leader had previously claimed that Putin may not be alive at all.
Zelensky made the remarks in an interview with Sky News, recorded on Wednesday. Journalist Kay Burley asked him what would happen if he was “in a room alone with President Putin” and whether it would help resolve the conflict with Russia.
After a long pause Zelensky replied: “It’s not interesting for me. Not interesting to meet. Not interesting to speak.”
He claimed that Putin was not trustworthy, adding: “I really don’t understand who makes decisions in Russia.”
“Is it too late now?” Burley asked.
“Too late? Not interesting,” Zelensky replied. “Who is he now? After full-scale invasion, for me he is nobody! Nobody!”
When asked about the remarks on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said they didn’t warrant a response. Zelensky was elected on a platform of peace, but failed to deliver, the Russian official said.
“He didn’t implement the Minsk Agreements. Moreover, it turned out he had no intention to implement them. He was preparing for war,” Peskov assessed, referring to the 2014-2015 peace roadmap for Donbass.
In the same interview, Zelensky acknowledged Russian military advances, which he attributed to a purported indifference to losses by Moscow, and thanked the US and its allies for pledging to supply main battle tanks to Kiev.
The Ukrainian president has previously claimed that he rejected direct contacts with Putin because he was “not certain that the president of Russia, who makes occasional appearances on TV … is actually [Putin].”
“I absolutely do not know whether he is alive, whether he takes decisions or someone else does,” Zelensky stated last week, during an event on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which he attended virtually.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said this month that seeking talks with Zelensky made no sense because the Ukrainian president was not the person determining his nation’s foreign policy.
The diplomat cited as evidence Kiev’s withdrawal from peace talks, which happened last April, shortly after Moscow accepted in principle Ukraine’s proposal for a truce. The draft document reportedly included among its terms Ukraine’s neutrality and pledge not to host foreign military forces. Western nations “yanked Kiev’s chain and said ‘too early’,” Lavrov remarked.
** US and NATO on path to full-fledged military conflict in Europe – Moscow
America’s "reckless neo-colonialist expansionist policy" has put Europe and possibly the world on the brink of a devastating conflict, Russia’s deputy envoy to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has warned. Continued escalation of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine could spiral into an all-out war that would see no victors, Maksim Buyakevich told the OSCE Permanent Council on Thursday.
"The leaders of the US and their NATO client states have come close to a red line," the diplomat warned, citing the US and other western nations’ plans to send dozens of modern battle tanks to Kiev. Buyakevich accused Washington and its allies of "deliberately escalating the military standoff" in Ukraine and of provoking Kiev into "military action against the Russian population."
"This is a straight path into a full-blown conflict in Europe, which absolutely all people living on our continent definitely stand to lose from," the Russian diplomat warned. He also said that the US and the UK, which he described as the "puppet masters" of the ongoing escalation, would hardly be able to "sit it out" either.
The latest decisions on new armed deliveries for Ukraine taken by Western nations only mire them "deeper involved in the armed standoff with Russian troops,"Buyakevich said. These decisions could result in further escalation and more intense warfare, which would only lead to more civilian victims and further destruction, he added.
The diplomat also accused the "collective West" of turning Ukraine into an "instrument for realizing their geopolitical plans," adding that the ongoing conflict between Moscow and Kiev was a result of the Western-backed 2014 Maidan coup.
Buyakevich also blamed the US and its "longstanding ambitions for global domination" for the current European security crisis. "The logic of the OSCE principle of indivisibility of security consistently dictates that either there is security for all [OSCE] member states or there is no security for any of them," the diplomat said, adding that the principle had been violated and this collective security had been lost.
Earlier this week, both the US and Germany announced plans to send modern Western tanks to Ukraine. Other NATO nations have already voiced similar intentions. Russia responded by saying that NATO’s "direct involvement" in the conflict in Ukraine was "growing." Moscow previously warned that the West’s continued arms supplies to Kiev risked a direct military conflict between Russia and NATO.
** Kremlin rules out any talks between Zelensky, Putin
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky stopped being a possible interlocutor for Russian President Vladimir Putin long ago, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday as he commented on a remark by the Ukrainian leader which said he was `not interested’ in meeting Putin for peace talks.
"We know what promises Zelensky made during his presidential campaign, and it is not difficult to remember them or refresh the memory of those voters who elected him in Ukraine: he never solved the Donbass problem, he reneged on the Minsk Agreements, moreover, it turned out that he never planned to implement them, as he had been preparing for war," Peskov said. "This is why, let’s put it this way, he himself has long ceased to be a potential interlocutor (for discussions - TASS) for President Putin," he added.
Earlier on Thursday, Zelensky told Great Britain’s Sky News TV channel that he was "not interested" in peace talks with Putin, saying Putin became "nobody" to him after he launched the special military operation.
Zelensky previously decreed to ban negotiations with Russia. Peskov said later that no talks between Moscow and Kiev were currently possible, given there are no conditions for them, whether de facto or de jure.
** Russia plays down West's move on tanks, attacks Ukraine anew
From Washington to Berlin to Kyiv, a Western decision to send battle tanks to Ukraine was hailed enthusiastically. Moscow first shrugged it off — and later launched a new barrage of attacks.
The Kremlin has previously warned that such tank deliveries would be a dangerous escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, and it has strongly denounced the watershed move by Germany and the United States to send the heavy weaponry to its foe.
But it insists the new armor won’t stop Russia from achieving its goals in Ukraine.
“The potential it gives to the Ukrainian armed forces is clearly exaggerated,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “Those tanks will burn just like any others.”
Moscow played down the move right after the announcement in an apparent attempt to save face as the West raised the stakes in Ukraine. Some Russian experts also emphasized that the supply of the deadly armor will be relatively limited and could take months to reach the front.
On Thursday, Russia launched a new wave of missiles and self-exploding drones across Ukraine — the latest in a series of strikes, many of which have targeted power plants and other key infrastructure.
Russian military bloggers and commentators say that such attacks involve meticulous preparation — so the latest barrage was likely planned in advance and was not necessarily linked to the tank announcement.
Yohann Michel, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, observed that while Western arms supplies irk Russia, it can do nothing to stop them. “It’s a problem that they can’t necessarily address,” he said, noting that earlier decisions by the U.S. and its allies to supply air-defense weapons to Ukraine could have been even more worrying for Moscow.
President Vladimir Putin, his diplomats and military leaders have repeatedly warned the West that supplying long-range weapons capable of striking deep inside Russia would mark a red line and trigger a massive retaliation.
While other weapons like tanks and certain air defense systems have drawn warnings from Russian officials, the wording has been deliberately vague, perhaps to allow the Kremlin to avoid getting cornered by making specific threats.
Poland, the Czech Republic and other NATO countries have already provided Ukraine with hundreds of smaller Soviet-made tanks from the Cold War era when they were part of the Soviet bloc. Ukrainian armed forces, who have used similar aging weaponry, needed no extra training to use them. They played an important role on the battlefield, helping Ukraine reclaim broad swaths of territory in 11 months of fighting.
As Ukraine’s armored units suffered attrition and stockpiles of the old T-72 tanks ran dry in the arsenals of its allies in Central and Eastern Europe, Kyiv has increasingly pushed for delivery of German-made Leopard 2 and U.S. M1 Abrams tanks.
After weeks of hesitation, Germany said Wednesday it will provide Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2 tanks and allow other allies willing to follow suit to deliver 88 Leopards to form two tank battalions. The U.S. announced it will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his officials, who long have said the country needs hundreds of tanks to counter a foe with a far superior number as well as other weapons, greeted the Western decision as a major breakthrough, voicing hope that more supplies would follow.
“The deliveries of Leopard 2 will take our ground forces to a qualitatively new level,” Ukrainian military expert Oleh Zhdanov told The Associated Press. Even though Leopard 2s are heavier than Soviet-designed tanks, they have a strong edge in firepower and survivability.
“One Leopard 2 could be equivalent to three or five Russian tanks,” Zhdanov said.
But he noted that the promised number of Western tanks represents only the minimum that Ukraine needs to repel a likely offensive by Moscow, adding that Russia has thousands of armored vehicles.
“Kyiv is preparing for a defensive operation, and its outcome will determine the future course of the conflict,” Zhdanov said.
Russian military analysts were more skeptical about the Western tanks, arguing that while Abrams proved clearly superior to older models of Soviet-built tanks during the war in Iraq, newer Russian models are more closely matched. They also charged that Leopard 2 tanks used by the Turkish army against the Kurds in Syria proved vulnerable to Soviet-era anti-tank weapons.
Some Russian online media quickly posted diagrams of the vulnerable points of the Leopard 2. “Hit Leopard as your grandfather hit Tiger and Panther!” one headline said, referring to Nazi tanks in World War II.
Andrei Kartapolov, a retired general who heads the defense affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, argued that both Leopard 2 and Abrams are inferior to Russia’s T-90, a modified version of the T-72.
The latest Russian tank, the T-14 Armata, has been manufactured only in small numbers and so far hasn’t been used in the war. The British Ministry of Defense said in its latest intelligence update that Russia has worked to prepare a small batch of T-14s for deployment in Ukraine, but said it had engine and other problems.
Russian observers, meanwhile, noted it could take a significant time for the Western tanks to reach Ukraine, adding that training Ukrainians to use them and properly maintain them would add to the challenge.
“It likely means that the Ukrainian military will probably receive a few small batches of tanks that could be incompatible with each other,” Moscow-based defense analyst Ilya Kramnik said in a commentary.
Zhdanov, the Ukrainian military analyst, argued that by agreeing to provide Ukraine with tanks, the West crossed an important psychological barrier and could eventually follow up by supplying even more deadly weapons.
“Handing over Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine marks a major change in the policy of Western allies, who stopped fearing escalation and are now ready to challenge Russia in the war of resources,” he said. “The West is forced to more widely open the doors to its military arsenals to Ukraine.”
Speaking in a video address late Wednesday, Zelenskyy hailed the creation of what he called a “tank coalition” and said Ukraine now will seek more artillery and push for unlocking supplies of long-range missiles and, ultimately, warplanes.
Ukrainian officials long have expressed hope for getting U.S. F-16 fighter jets and long-range rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, known as HIMARS, to hit targets far behind the front lines.
Such desires drew ominous remarks from Russian diplomat Konstantin Gavrilov, similar to the kind voiced earlier by Putin and others.
“If Washington and NATO give Kyiv weapons to strike peaceful cities deep inside Russia and try to seize the territories that constitutionally belong to Russia, it will force Moscow to take harsh retaliatory action,” Gavrilov told a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “Don’t tell us then that we haven’t warned you.”
** Germany apologizes for leopard jibe that upset some Africans
Germany apologized on Thursday for using a leopard emoji in a jibe at Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Twitter that ended up offending some Africans.
The German foreign ministry poked fun at Russia’s top diplomat during his tour of Africa when it tweeted that he wasn’t there looking for leopards, but using the trip to try and justify Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The tweet, and the leopard emoji the foreign ministry used on its official account, played off Germany’s decision to send some of its advanced Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to help its military fight off Russian forces.
But an African Union official took offense at what she said was the continent being portrayed as only about wild animals. Ebba Kalondo, the spokeswoman for AU Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, tweeted back to the German government account questioning if Africa, its people and its wildlife was “just a joke to you?”
“Foreign policy is not a joke nor should it be used to score cheap geopolitical points by illustrating an entire Continent with colonial tropes,” Kalondo wrote in a follow-up tweet.
The German foreign ministry apologized and said that the tweet wasn’t meant to offend, but rather “to call out the lies that Russia uses to justify its imperialist war of aggression against Ukraine.”
Lavrov has visited South Africa, Eswatini, Angola and Eritrea this week, where he has repeated his claims that the United States and its Western allies are using Ukraine as a tool in a “hybrid war” against Russia.
Many African nations still hold historical ties with Moscow. South Africa was one of several to abstain from a U.N. vote last year condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Eritrea voted against the resolution alongside Russia, Belarus, North Korea and Syria.