Zelenskyy from Ukraine: Any Russian victory could be dangerous


ON A TRAIN FROM SUMY TO KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned on Tuesday that Russia could start building international support for a deal that could force Ukraine to make unacceptable compromises if its nation does not fight a protracted battle in an important city in the east. He also invited the leader of China, long-time ally with Russia, to visit.

If Bakhmut fell to Russian forces, its President Vladimir Putin would “sell that victory to the West, to its society, to China, to Iran,” Zelenskyy said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press.

“If he feels some blood – smells that we’re weak – he’ll push, push, push,” Zelenskyy said in English, which he used practically throughout the interview.

The leader spoke to the AP aboard a train that shuttles him across Ukraine, to towns near some of the fiercest fighting and to others where his country’s forces have successfully repelled the Russian invasion. The AP is the first news organization to have traveled extensively with Zelenskyy since the war began just over a year ago.

Since then, Ukraine — backed by much of the West — has surprised the world with the strength of its resistance to the larger, better-equipped Russian military. Ukrainian forces have held their capital, Kiev, and pushed Russia back from other strategically important areas.

But as the war enters its second year, Zelenskyy is focused on keeping motivation high for both his military and the general Ukrainian population – particularly the millions who have fled abroad and those living in relative safety and security far live away from the front lines.

Zelenskyy is also aware that his country’s success has been due in large part to waves of international military support, particularly from the United States and western Europe. But some in the United States — including Republican Donald Trump, the former US president and current 2024 nominee — have questioned whether Washington should continue to provide Ukraine with billions of dollars in military aid.

Trump’s likely Republican rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also hinted that defending Ukraine in a “territorial dispute” with Russia is not a major US national security priority. He later retracted that statement after facing criticism from other corners of the GOP.

Zelenskyy didn’t mention the names of Trump or other Republican politicians – numbers he might have to grapple with if they won through in the 2024 election. But he said he was concerned the war could be influenced by shifting political forces in Washington.

“The United States really understands that if they stop helping us, we won’t win,” he said in the interview. He sipped tea while sitting on a narrow bed in the cramped, unadorned sleeping compartment of a state railway train.

The President’s carefully calibrated rail journey was a remarkable overland journey through a country at war. Zelenskyy, who has become a recognizable face around the world as he persistently tells his side of the story nation after nation, used the morale-building journey to carry his considerable influence to regions near the front lines.

He traveled with a small cadre of advisers and a large group of heavily armed security officers in combat fatigues. His objectives included celebrations of the one-year anniversary of the liberation of cities in the Sumy region and visits to troops stationed on the front lines near Zaporizhia. Each visit was kept under wraps until after his departure.

Zelenskyi recently made a similar visit near Bakhmut, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been engaged in bitter and bloody combat for months. While some Western military analysts have suggested that the city has no significant strategic importance, Zelenskyy warned that a loss anywhere at this stage of the war could jeopardize Ukraine’s hard-won momentum.

“We must not lose steps because war is a cake – slices of victories. Small wins, small steps,” he said.

Zelensky’s comments were an acknowledgment that losing the 7-month Battle of Bakhmut – the longest of the war to date – would be a costly political defeat rather than a tactical one.

He predicted that the pressure of defeat at Bakhmut would come quickly – both from the international community and within his own country. “Our society will feel tired,” he said. “Our society will push me to compromise with them.”

Selenskyj says he has not felt this pressure before. The international community has largely rallied around Ukraine following the February 24, 2022 Russian invasion. In recent months, a parade of world leaders has visited Zelenskyy in Ukraine, most arriving on trains similar to those the president uses to travel across the country.

In his AP interview, Zelenskyy invited to Ukraine a notable and strategic leader who didn’t make the trip – Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“We’re ready to see him here,” he said. “I want to speak to him. I had contact with him before the full blown war. But all year, more than a year, I hadn’t.”

China, which has been economically allied with Russia for many decades and politically pro-Russian, has provided Putin with diplomatic protection by charting an official position of neutrality in the war.

Asked if Xi would accept an invitation from Zelenskyy — or whether one had been officially extended — Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters she had no information to give. She said Beijing is “maintaining communication with all parties concerned, including Ukraine.”

Xi visited Putin in Russia last week and raised the prospect that Beijing may be ready to provide Moscow with the arms and ammunition it needs to replenish its depleted stocks. But Xi’s journey ended without such an announcement. Days later, Putin announced that he would deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, which borders Russia and pushes the Kremlin’s nuclear arsenal closer to NATO territory.

Zelenskyy indicated that Putin’s move was intended to distract from the lack of guarantees he had received from China.

“What does that mean? It means that the visit was not good for Russia,” Zelenskyy speculated.

The President makes few predictions about the biggest question hanging over the war: how it will end. However, he expressed confidence that through a series of “small victories” and “small steps” his nation will prevail against a “very big country, a big enemy, a big army” – but an army, he said, with “little hearts”. ”

And Ukraine itself? While Zelenskyy acknowledged that the war “changed us,” he said it ultimately made his society stronger.

“It could have ended up dividing the country, or otherwise – uniting us,” he said. “I’m so grateful. I’m grateful to everyone — every single partner, our people, thank God, everyone — for finding this path at this critical moment for the nation. Finding that path was what saved our nation , and we saved our country. We are together.”

Julie Pace is Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of The Associated Press. Hanna Arhirova is a Ukraine-based AP correspondent.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine


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