Ukraine’s Zelenskyy urges Western allies to step up pressure on Russia

The Ukrainian leader says Western hesitation in backing Kyiv is costing time and lives and could prolong the fighting for years.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends the Annual Meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lobbies for aid during the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland [Markus Schreiber/AP]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged the West to tighten sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and step up its support for Kyiv to ensure that Moscow does not succeed in its war.

Western hesitation in supporting Ukraine and fears of an escalation in the war with Russia are costing time and lives and could prolong the fighting by years, Zelenskyy said on Tuesday in an emotional speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

With the West’s once-staunch wartime support for Kyiv now wavering amid political wrangling in Washington and Brussels, Zelenskyy said Europeans need to understand that Putin’s plans go beyond the war in Ukraine.

“In fact, Putin embodies war. … He will not change. … We must change. We all must change to the extent that the madness that resides in this man’s head or any other aggressor’s head will not prevail,” the president said.

Nearly two years after Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Zelenskyy said he strongly opposes freezing the conflict along its current lines.

“Putin is a predator who is not satisfied with frozen products,” he said.

He said sanctions on Moscow need to be enforced properly and the lack of sanctions on Russia’s nuclear sector are an illustration of the West’s weakness.

European Union and NATO leaders echoed Zelenskyy’s concerns, telling the forum the West could not let up supplying  Ukraine with weapons and money if it wants Kyiv to prevail.

“Ukrainians need predictable financing throughout 2024 and beyond. They need a sufficient and sustained supply of weapons to defend Ukraine and regain its rightful territory,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen advised.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, also speaking at Davos, said support for Ukraine was not charity but an investment in the alliance’s own security.

“We just have to stand by Ukraine. At some stage, Russia will understand that they are paying too high a price and sit down and agree to some kind of just peace – but we need to stand by Ukraine,” he stated.

The forum is being held as Kyiv’s troops are going onto a more defensive footing after a major counteroffensive last year was unable to break through Russian defensive lines in Ukraine’s occupied south and east.

Speaking hours after the Ukrainian president, Putin insisted his forces have the upper hand.

“Not only has their counteroffensive failed, but the initiative is entirely in the hands of the Russian armed forces,” the Russian leader said in televised remarks.

“If this continues, Ukraine’s statehood could be dealt an irreparable, very serious blow,” he added.

Putin also shot down the possibility of peace talks with Ukraine, saying the country had advanced “prohibitive formulas for the peace process”.

Kyiv is now focused on trying to secure Western assistance held up in the United States Congress and Brussels as it reforms its conscription effort to replenish manpower and addresses artillery shortages at the front.

In a question-and-answer session after his speech, Zelenskyy said he had received “positive signals” about the unlocking of financial support from the EU.

He said he hoped that the US would approve further aid within weeks.

To drive home his point about the need to support Kyiv, he asked rhetorically what other European nation could provide a combat-ready army that could hold back Russian forces.

“If anyone thinks this is only about Ukraine, they’re fundamentally mistaken. Possible directions and even timeline of a new Russian aggression beyond Ukraine become more and more obvious.”

Zelenskyy met senior officials on the sidelines of the forum, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Stoltenberg and international investors, such as executives from JPMorgan Chase.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies