Active Stocks
Fri Sep 22 2023 13:59:35
  1. Tata Steel share price
  2. 127.25 -0.43%
  1. HDFC Bank share price
  2. 1,537.8 -1.02%
  1. State Bank Of India share price
  2. 599.35 1.88%
  1. Power Grid Corporation Of India share price
  2. 197.3 -2.23%
  1. Infosys share price
  2. 1,497.25 -0.31%
Business News/ Politics / News/  Ukraine’s Zelensky: We Are Ready for Counteroffensive

ODESA, Ukraine—Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was now ready to launch a long-awaited counteroffensive but tempered a forecast of success with a warning: It could take some time and come at a heavy cost.

“We strongly believe that we will succeed," Zelensky said in an interview in this southern port city as his country’s military girded for what could be one of the war’s most consequential phases as it aims to retake territory occupied by Russia.

“I don’t know how long it will take," he told The Wall Street Journal. “To be honest, it can go a variety of ways, completely different. But we are going to do it, and we are ready."

In a wide-ranging, hourlong discussion, Zelensky, 45 years old, said he feared U.S. elections next year could bring a less-supportive administration to power and called on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to offer a clear path to membership for Kyiv.

He also urged China to try to restrain Russia and said Ukraine urgently needed more U.S.-made Patriot missile-defense systems to protect citizens from aerial bombardments and to shield front-line troops.

Zelensky acknowledged Russian air superiority on the front lines and said a lack of protection from Russian air power means “a large number of soldiers will die" in the counteroffensive.

Ukraine would have liked to have more Western-supplied weapons for the coming campaign, he said. Still, Ukraine is ready to move. “We would like to have certain things, but we can’t wait for months," he said.

Zelensky said Ukraine’s ground forces were “stronger and more motivated" than the dug-in Russian troops trying to hold on to the roughly 20% of Ukraine they control in the country’s east and south.

The counteroffensive is a pivotal moment for Zelensky, a former actor and comedian whose leadership during the war has propelled him to global prominence. The outcome will shape the contours of Western military backing and diplomatic jockeying over Ukraine’s future.

Ukraine’s backers have provided billions in military and financial support that has been essential to Kyiv’s war effort, and calls for Zelensky to seek a peace deal could grow if the counteroffensive fails to deliver a significant breakthrough.

Zelensky veered from expressions of gratitude to Western supporters for weapons deliveries to words of frustration over their reluctance to give Ukraine greater quantities of powerful arms to fend off the Russians.

His statements reflected the balance he must find between pressing to get what he needs to retain Ukraine’s independence and domestic political support while not pushing allies too far and eroding their backing.

Zelensky said he was aware that Western leaders sometimes take offense at his harsh tone, but couldn’t understand why, in his view, they were drip-feeding more-advanced arms that they know would protect lives and help Ukraine win.

If Ukraine isn’t able to withstand Russia, Zelensky said, “that animal, that beast will develop a taste" for conquest and go further.

“Let’s not compare who should be grateful to whom," he said.

Zelensky spoke at a government residence after a day visiting wounded soldiers, meeting military commanders and visiting the port to discuss how to increase exports. Wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with his country’s name, he looked a touch weary, but perked up when asked how he keeps his spirits up.

“There is no place for weakness," he said.

The West has helped train and equip tens of thousands of soldiers to try to strengthen Kyiv’s hand for the counteroffensive.

Ukraine repelled a Russian assault on its capital in February last year and took back swaths of territory in the northeast and south in two earlier counteroffensives in 2022.

In recent weeks, Ukraine has stepped up long-range attacks with missiles and drones aimed at crippling Russian supply lines ahead of the campaign. Ukraine-backed Russian volunteers have staged cross-border raids aimed at forcing Russia to shift troops away from front lines inside Ukraine.

Western officials said they thought Ukraine’s counterattack was imminent, and that Kyiv was waiting for the ground to dry out.

Russian offensive efforts this year have yielded tiny gains, including the capture of the small eastern city of Bakhmut, but cost thousands of lives and strained Russia’s military.

Ukraine’s Western backers recognize that Kyiv’s own offensive won’t end the war, but want it to demonstrate to Russian President Vladimir Putin the futility of his strategy of digging in and waiting for support for Ukraine to erode, a Western official said.

The Biden administration has committed more than $37 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion and pledged further military aid. European allies have followed.

But former President Donald Trump, the leading Republican contender for the 2024 presidential election, declined last month to say he would back Ukraine, saying instead that he would seek to bring a swift end to the war, without saying how.

Zelensky said he was concerned that any change in administration could affect aid.

“In a situation like this, when there is support, you are afraid of changes," he said. “And to be honest, when you mention a change of administration, I feel the same way as any other person—you want changes for the better, but it can also be the other way around."

Zelensky said he couldn’t understand Trump’s claim he could end the war in 24 hours, as Trump hadn’t done so while in office, when Russia was already occupying Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine.

Biden has an emotional attachment to Ukraine that has underpinned his administration’s support for the country, Zelensky said. Trump’s presidency came before the full-scale invasion, and “I’m not sure how Trump would have acted," he said.

Still, Ukraine’s president said he was encouraged by bipartisan support in the U.S. and the backing of ordinary citizens, and hoped that both parties and Congress would continue to support Ukraine and pressure any new administration to keep up flows of assistance.

A more immediate concern for Zelensky is to secure a clear path to NATO membership at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, in July.

NATO said in 2008 that Ukraine would become a member, but gave no timeline. Ukraine applied for membership last year, but the U.S., the alliance’s unofficial leader, largely has sidestepped discussions of how or when Ukraine might join NATO, instead focusing on boosting Kyiv’s security and military strength.

Zelensky said some in NATO were unwilling to admit Ukraine owing to fear of Russia. But pressure is growing on the alliance to offer concrete security guarantees and a path to membership.

Zelensky said he didn’t expect Ukraine to join NATO while fighting continued, but wanted a pledge that it would be admitted after the war.

“If we are not given a signal in Vilnius, I believe there is no point for Ukraine to be at this summit," he said. Asked whether he thought he would get such a signal, he replied: “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know."

Zelensky said he was grateful to Western countries for supplying weapons systems, but that deliveries should be faster and in greater numbers as delays were costing lives.

In particular, he said, Ukraine needs more Patriot missile batteries—which consist of several launchers, a powerful radar, a control station and other support equipment—to protect its cities and front-line troops.

Ukraine now has at least two Patriot batteries, but Zelensky said he would like as many as 50, as it is the only system capable of intercepting some of the advanced missiles fired from Russia.

Zelensky’s administration has sought to isolate Russia by working to win support from countries including China, India and Brazil that maintain friendly relations with Russia.

He is trying to convene a summit around his 10-point peace plan, which calls for Russian troops to withdraw from Ukrainian territory.

“Putin has to know that people won’t shake his hand, that he no longer sits at the table with serious countries, that Russia is not part of international organizations," he said.

China, which hasn’t condemned Russia’s invasion and has blamed the U.S. and its allies for the war, has sought to insert itself in diplomacy aimed at peace. Ukraine has said it is prepared to listen to China’s views but won’t agree to any proposal that would involve ceding territory.

Zelensky has said he urged Chinese President Xi Jinping in an April phone call not to supply Russia with weapons or other technologies, and Xi reassured him that China wasn’t providing arms to Russia.

China is bigger and more powerful than Russia and could play an important role in bringing peace, Zelensky said.

“I would not want such a country to stand by and watch people die," he said. “If you are big, this is what national greatness means. This is not a painting or a museum; it is a real, bloody war."


Next Story
Recommended For You
Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App