Zelenskyy: Ukraine won’t give up
KHARKIV, Ukraine - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the war with Russia is in a new stage, with winter expected to complicate fighting after a summer counteroffensive that failed to produce desired results due to enduring shortages of weapons and ground forces.
Despite setbacks, however, he said Ukraine won’t give up.
“We have a new phase of war, and that is a fact,” Zelenskyy said in an exclusive interview Thursday with The Associated Press in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine after a morale-boosting tour of the region. “Winter as a whole is a new phase of war.”
Asked if he was satisfied by the results of the counteroffensive, he gave a complex answer.
“Look, we are not backing down, I am satisfied. We are fighting with the second (best) army in the world, I am satisfied,” he said, referring to the Russian military. But he added: “We are losing people, I’m not satisfied. We didn’t get all the weapons we wanted, I can’t be satisfied, but I also can’t complain too much.”
Zelenskyy also said he fears the Israel-Hamas war threatens to overshadow the conflict in Ukraine, as competing political agendas and limited resources put the flow of Western military aid to Kyiv at risk.
And those concerns are amplified by the tumult that inevitably arises during a U.S. election year and its potential implications for his country, which has seen the international community largely rally around it following Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion.
The highly anticipated counteroffensive, powered by tens of billions of dollars in Western military aid, including heavy weaponry, did not forge the expected breakthroughs. Now, some Ukrainian officials worry whether further assistance will be as generous.
At the same time, ammunition stockpiles are running low, threatening to bring Ukrainian battlefield operations to a standstill.
With winter set to cloak a wartime Ukraine once again, military leaders must contend with new but familiar challenges as the conflict grinds toward the end of its second full year: There are freezing temperatures and barren fields that leave soldiers exposed. And there’s the renewed threat of widespread Russian aerial assaults in cities that target energy infrastructure and civilians.
On Nov. 25, Moscow launched its most extensive drone attack of the war, with most of the 75 Iranian-made Shahed drones targeting Kyiv in a troubling precedent for the months ahead.
“That is why a winter war is difficult,” Zelenskyy said.
He gave a frank appraisal of the last summer’s counteroffensive.
“We wanted faster results. From that perspective, unfortunately, we did not achieve the desired results. And this is a fact,” he said.
Ukraine did not get all the weapons it needed from allies, he said, and limits in the size of his military force precluded a quick advance, he said.
“There is not enough power to achieve the desired results faster. But this does not mean that we should give up, that we have to surrender,” Zelenskyy said. “We are confident in our actions. We fight for what is ours.”
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, responding to Zelenskyy’s comments about military aid, said the U.S. provided “unprecedented” support.
“I certainly can’t dispute President Zelenskyy’s estimation that they haven’t achieved the success that they had hoped to achieve,” Kirby said. “But I can assure you that the United States has done everything we can.”
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration wants to give more but faces resistance from Republican representatives in Congress, Kirby said.
“And if we don’t get that support from Congress, the message it is going to send around the world about how much Ukraine matters and how much the United States and our leadership can deliver to our partners around the world is going to be loud and clear and deeply unfortunate,” Kirby said.
Zelenskyy said there were some positive take-aways from the last few months.
Ukraine managed to make incremental territorial gains against a better-armed and fortified enemy, Zelenskyy said.
In addition, the might of Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet has been diminished, following Ukrainian attacks that penetrated air defenses and struck its headquarters in occupied Crimea, Zelenskyy added.
And a temporary grain corridor established by Kyiv following Russia’s withdrawal from a wartime agreement to ensure the safe exports is still working.
Zelenskyy, though, isn’t dwelling on the past but is focused on the next stage - boosting domestic arms production.
A sizable chunk of Ukraine’s budget is allocated for that, but current output is far from enough to turn the tide of war. Now, Zelenskyy is looking to Western allies, including the U.S., to offer favorable loans and contracts to meet that goal.
“This is the way out,” Zelenskyy said, adding that nothing terrifies Russia more than a militarily self-sufficient Ukraine.