Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy says stalemate with Russia ‘not an option’
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest War in Ukraine news every morning.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said a stalemate in the war with Russia was “not an option for us” as he once more appealed for western military support to restore his country’s territorial integrity.
“We are inferior in terms of equipment and therefore we are not capable of advancing,” he said. “We are going to suffer more losses and people are my priority.”
Speaking to Financial Times editor Roula Khalaf at the FT’s Global Boardroom conference on Tuesday, Zelenskyy said pushing Russian forces back to positions occupied before the February 24 invasion would amount to a “serious temporary victory” for Ukraine but full sovereignty over its territory remained his ultimate goal.
The war has entered an attritional phase in the eastern Donbas region, the focal point of the fighting, with Russia using its superior artillery forces to grind down Ukrainian troops and make incremental territorial gains. Zelenskyy has said Ukraine could be losing up to 100 troops a day.
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly asked western partners for the rapid supply of longer-range heavy weaponry to push back Russian forces but have been dismayed by the slow pace of deliveries and the continuing fear in some capitals of provoking a Russian escalation.
Zelenskyy said that “victory must be achieved on the battlefield”. But he also insisted he was open to peace talks despite atrocities committed by Russian troops during their 100-day onslaught. Any war should be ended at the negotiating table, he said.
However, peace negotiations would have to be face to face with President Vladimir Putin, because there was “nobody else to talk to” but the Russian leader.
Zelenskyy hit out at what he saw as attempts by some western allies to explore the terms of a ceasefire without involving Kyiv.
“We need abiding interest from the west, western support for Ukraine’s sovereignty. There cannot be talks behind Ukraine’s back anytime.
“How can we achieve a ceasefire on the territory of Ukraine without listening to the position of this country? This is very surprising.”
He said his allies could do more to bring Russia to the negotiating table by supplying Ukraine with arms and by toughening economic sanctions on Moscow, including a complete oil and gas embargo. They should not be mere mediators, he said, but should be ensuring that Moscow ended its hostilities and would honour any ceasefire. They should, he said, be setting the “preconditions” for peace.
“You have influence on the result . . . Apart from words, you should manifest what you can actually do.”
Zelenskyy took issue with French president Emmanuel Macron’s warnings to the west not to treat Russia in the spirit of “humiliation”. Macron knew very well about Russia’s failure to implement earlier peace agreements under the so-called Minsk process, which had failed to end the fighting in the Donbas since 2014, Zelenskyy said.
“I don’t really understand . . . humiliating Russia. For eight years they have been killing us. What are we talking about here?”
By contrast, Zelenskyy said it was “great news” that British prime minister Boris Johnson had survived a no-confidence vote by Conservative MPs on Monday night.
“I am glad we have not lost a very important ally.”
Ukrainian officials regard the UK as one of its most steadfast supporters after Johnson’s decisions from early in the war to provide sophisticated weapons to Kyiv and to back its full war aims.
Zelenskyy said that while some western sanctions had already dealt a severe blow to the Russian economy, they “have not really influenced the Russian position”. Moscow was constantly finding ways to circumvent sanctions, he added.
He also suggested that some western governments were already tiring of the economic fallout from sanctions on Russia and were looking for ways to soften the impact to protect their own commercial interests.
“Everyone is acting like a cipher. They are supporting Ukraine but also checking what can be done to weaken sanctions so business doesn’t suffer,” Zelenskyy said.
On UN-led talks to restore access to Ukrainian Black Sea ports, Zelenskyy was willing to back the idea of a maritime corridor to enable grain exports from Ukrainian ports as long as no access was given to Russian ships. There was no need for a dialogue with Moscow to resolve the blockade given that the only threat to world food supplies was coming from Russia, he said.
Zelenskyy said he hoped the “same national spirit” that had been kindled in Ukraine by Russia’s attack would last once the war was over because it would “give us a chance to restore our country and it will give us a chance to become a great nation”.