Tuesday, 21 May 2024 04:53

What to know after Day 817 of Russia-Ukraine war

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Ukraine's Zelenskiy pushes allies to step up aid and involvement in war

Western allies are taking too long to make key decisions on military support for Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Reuters in an exclusive interview in Kyiv on Monday.

He also said he was pushing partners to get more directly involved in the war by helping to intercept Russian missiles over Ukraine and allowing Kyiv to use Western weapons against enemy military equipment amassing near the border.

The call to accelerate aid and push so-called "red lines" of engagement in the conflict reflect the growing pressure Zelenskiy's forces are under along more than 1,000 km of front lines in the northeast, east and south of the country.

An impassioned Zelenskiy, dressed in his familiar khaki T-shirt and trousers, said the situation on the battlefield was "one of the most difficult" he had known since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022.

In recent weeks Moscow's troops have made incursions into northeastern Ukraine, further testing Kyiv's already stretched defences. At the same time, Russia has taken territory in the eastern Donbas region in sometimes fierce battles.

"A very powerful wave (of fighting) is going on in Donbas ... No-one even notices that there are actually more battles in the east of the country, specifically in the Donbas direction: Kurakhove, Pokrovsk, Chasiv Yar."

He added, however, that the situation north of Kharkiv was now "under control".

The 46-year-old was speaking on the fifth anniversary of his inauguration as president. He has not contested elections because of martial law imposed due to the invasion.

Zelenskiy called again for faster military aid from the United States and other partners. Weapons and ammunition from a recently passed U.S. package is now arriving in Ukraine, but it was delayed for months by internal political wrangling.

"Every decision to which we, then later everyone together, comes to is late by around one year," said Zelenskiy.

"But it is what it is: one big step forward, but before that two steps back. So we need to change the paradigm a little bit."


Zelenskiy said he wanted his partners to be more directly involved in the war, but understood they were wary of antagonising Russia.

"It's a question of will," he said. "But everyone says a word that sounds the same in every language: everyone is scared of escalation. Everyone has gotten used to the fact that Ukrainians are dying – that's not escalation for people."

He proposed that the armed forces of neighbouring NATO countries could intercept incoming Russian missiles over Ukrainian territory to help Kyiv protect itself.

Russia has fired thousands of missiles and drones at Ukraine since the start of the wider conflict, and air defences are a priority for Kyiv.

"Russians are using 300 planes on the territory of Ukraine. We need at least 120, 130 planes to resist in the sky," he said. Ukraine is waiting for the delivery of U.S.-designed F-16s which have yet to be used in anger.

He said that if countries could not supply the planes straight away, they could still fly them from neighbouring NATO states and shoot down Russian missiles.

The Ukrainian leader also said Kyiv was negotiating with international partners to use their weapons to strike Russian military hardware at the border and further inside Russian territory.

"So far, there is nothing positive," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin would likely view such developments as escalatory.

He casts the war as part of an existential battle with a declining and decadent West which he says humiliated Russia after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 by encroaching on what he considers Moscow's sphere of influence, including Ukraine.

Ukraine and the West reject such an interpretation, calling the invasion an unprovoked land grab.

Zelenskiy reiterated that he had not broken agreements with allies not to use their weapons inside Russia.

"We can't put the whole volume of weapons at risk."


Ukraine is gearing up for international talks in Switzerland next month that will exclude Russia and are aimed at trying to unify and harden opinion against Moscow.

Putin has said he believes the talks may convert Ukrainian demands for a Russian withdrawal into an ultimatum for Russia, a strategy he said would fail.

Zelenskiy said it was crucial to get as many countries around the table as possible.

"And then Russia will have to answer to the majority of the world, not Ukraine. ... No-one says that tomorrow Russia will agree, but it is important that we have the initiative."

Beijing has yet to say whether it will participate, although Chinese President Xi Jinping and Putin met last week in China and pledged a "new era" of partnership between the two most powerful rivals of the United States.

"It is very important that they (China) are there," said Zelenskiy. "Because in principle, after this summit, it becomes clear who wants to end the war, and who wants to remain in strong relations with the Russian Federation."

On U.S. politics, he sought to dampen concerns that any win for Republican candidate Donald Trump in November elections could spell trouble for Ukraine. Trump is a Ukraine aid sceptic who has stressed "America First" policies.

"I don't believe that Republicans are against support for Ukraine, but some messages that are coming from their side raise concerns."

Zelenskiy, a former comedian, said he would let others judge his performance as leader of a country at war, but he expressed his gratitude to the Ukrainian people for their stoicism in the face of adversity.

He also insisted that Ukraine could still win the war, despite setbacks in recent months.

"I think we need to walk this path to the end, preferably a victorious one," he said. "Even though today people look somewhat sceptically at the word 'victory' - I understand it is difficult, because it is long."



NATO countries already training troops in Ukraine – Estonian PM

Military personnel from some NATO member states are already training Ukrainian soldiers inside the country, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has said. This will not lead to a direct confrontation with Russia because the personnel are doing it “at their own risk,” she insisted in an interview with Financial Times on Monday.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded by urging the Estonian leader to inform the public about the less savory aspects of these missions.

“Some nations are already getting their trainers back. But they keep mum about that. I hope brave Kaja will give the details,” she wrote on social media.

Kallas is one of the most outspoken supporters of Kiev’s war effort against Russia, and has been critical of Western politicians who are hesitant to ramp up military aid for Ukraine.

Her claim that the deployment of NATO instructors to Ukraine would not result in a direct confrontation with Russia was based on the fact that these military personnel are not covered by the alliance’s Article 5 mutual protection clause.

“I can’t possibly imagine that if somebody is hurt there, then those who have sent their people will say ‘It’s Article 5. Let’s … bomb Russia.’ It is not how it works. It’s not automatic,” she explained in the interview with Financial Times.

“If you send your people to help Ukrainians … you know the country is at war and you go to a risk zone. So you take the risk,” she added.

NATO has been training some Ukrainian soldiers on the territory of member states including the UK, Germany and Poland, teaching them how to use Western-donated weapons. Doing the same thing on Ukrainian soil would be quicker and simpler from a logistics point of view, according to proponents of the strategy.

Western officials have previously acknowledged the presence of some military personnel in Ukraine since the outbreak of the conflict in 2022, but did not publicly confirm that they were training local forces.

Kallas has also sided with French President Emmanual Macron, who maintains that a formal deployment of NATO troops to Ukraine cannot be ruled out to prevent a Russian victory in the conflict. He has claimed that this policy keeps Moscow guessing about the bloc’s intentions.

Last year, the Ukrainian government attempted to use Western arms and training to break through Russian defensive lines, but failed to score any significant territorial gains. Its achievements in the so-called “counteroffensive” have largely been reversed since then, Western media have reported.

Now Kiev intends to mobilize hundreds of thousands of additional troops under a new law that allows for a heavy crackdown on draft avoidance and extends the pool of potential recruits to some convicts and people previously thought to be not fully fit for duty due to medical conditions.

In early May, the Russian Defense Ministry estimated that Ukrainian military losses had surpassed 111,000 this year alone.




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