Ukraine will ask the United States for more heavy weapons to defeat Russia, Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday, ahead of what he called a “very important” visit to Kyiv by the US Secretary of State and Secretary of State. Defense Sunday.
Ukraine’s president said the United States and the United Kingdom had provided his beleaguered country with the “best military support” since Vladimir Putin’s invasion two months ago. He said he would present an “armaments list” to the Biden administration on Sunday, to thwart Russia’s ongoing bid to seize the Donbass region.
With enough weapons, the Ukrainian military could retake territory temporarily occupied by Russian forces in the south and east “tomorrow”, Zelenskiy said. He acknowledged that his “Western partners” had recently accelerated the delivery of arms, particularly Washington.
He praised European leaders who had the courage to come to Ukraine in person and said he hoped US President Joe Biden would visit once the security situation allowed. He said his country didn’t need “tragic selfies”. Instead, planes and tanks were needed, he suggested.
Zelenskiy’s pleas for more help from the West came during an extraordinary press conference in Kyiv. It took place in a place deep underground, apparently chosen to protect the president from a Russian bombing. More than 200 journalists were summoned to Khreshchatyk metro station.
After security checks, they descended several hundred meters in an elevator, then passed through a decorative chamber built by the Soviets to the Independence Square metro station. A silver platform had been set up in front of a Ukrainian flag and trident. The trains paraded in a surreal way.
The president arrived at 7:30 p.m. local time, flanked by Ukrainian commandos. It was Zelenskiy’s biggest media event since Moscow promised in February to “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine. The Kremlin’s plan to seize kyiv in days has failed and has now turned into an endless war of conquest.
During a meeting with his defense secretary, Sergei Shoigu, last week, Putin was seen eerily hugging the table. Asked by the Observer whether a possible illness explained the Russian leader’s decision to invade Ukraine, Zelenskiy replied: “It is difficult to assess”.
He stressed: “The Russian Federation has always wanted something like this to happen. Many Russians do not believe that we are independent. We are trying to repel an encroaching invasion. We fight for the right to live. This is a war for the freedom of Ukraine.
Zelenskiy compared the behavior of the Russian army in Ukraine to that of the fascist German troops who subjugated Europe 80 years ago. “They are Russian Nazis. They will forever be written in the history books as barbarians,” he said, citing the killing of civilians, including women and children, and widespread rape.
Looking a little tired and dressed in a gray military fleece, Zelenskiy spoke passionately about the destruction of peaceful communities. He said five Russian missiles slammed into the port city of Odessa on Saturday, killing eight people in a building and injuring eight.
One of the dead was a three-month-old baby. “Try to grab it. The war started when the child was a month old. They’re pure bastards. They’re monsters. It’s horrible. They don’t care,” he said. war crimes tribunal would bring justice to the Russian leadership, he added.
Zelenskiy reiterated his willingness to meet Putin for face-to-face negotiations. “I’m not afraid,” he said, after reports of several Russian plots to kill him. But he said Ukraine would break off the talks if Moscow held what he called a “pseudo-referendum” in the southern province of Kherson next week.
Russia seems ready to legitimize its land grab by organizing a fictitious vote in the occupied areas, like the 2014 “referendums” which saw the creation of the so-called people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. A new vote would mean talks with Russia would be “just theater with very bad actors”, he said.
Zelenskiy described the situation in beleaguered Mariupol as “monstrous”. He admitted that Ukraine faced hundreds of Russian armored vehicles and would not be able to “unblock” the port city or its steel plant, where civilians have taken refuge.
Russia continued to bomb the Azovstal plant, just hours after Putin promised all attacks would stop, Zelenskiy said. kyiv had offered to exchange the civilians trapped inside for Russian servicemen, but Moscow had refused offers of “pragmatic dialogue”, he complained.
Zelenskiy said he was extremely proud of Ukrainians who defended their country against Russian attack. “They are heroes,” he said. He also praised the media, describing them as “apostles” in the battle for truth at a time when Russia was bombarding its people with lies and misinformation.
The president said the war has brought his citizens together. It also gave the European Union a sense of common values and a new strategic focus for NATO, he suggested. “We have unity. We need weapons,” he said, before disappearing down an escalator back to his presidential office.
On Thursday, the United States pledged $800 million in additional weaponry for Ukraine. Biden said he would ask Congress for more money and pledged to send heavy artillery, dozens of howitzers and 144,000 rounds, as well as tactical drones.
“We are now in a critical window of time where they are going to set the stage for the next phase of this war,” Biden said, referring to Russia’s attack on Donbass. The United States and its allies were “moving as quickly as possible” to provide Zelenskiy with the equipment and weapons he needed, Biden added.
Zelenskiy will meet with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Sunday.
In another development on Saturday, Turkey announced it was closing its airspace to Russian civilian and military aircraft flying to Syria.
The announcement marks one of the strongest responses to date from Turkey, which has close ties to Moscow despite being a member of the NATO defense alliance, to the military onslaught two months of Russia against Ukraine.
“We have closed the airspace to Russian military – and even civilian – aircraft flying into Syria. They had until April, and we asked in March,” Turkish media quoted Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu as saying.
Çavuşoğlu said he conveyed the decision to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who then passed it on to Putin.