Highlights from an interview with Zelenskyy
Take the train from Sumy to Kiev, Ukraine –
A team of Associated Press journalists traveled by train for two days with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to visit the southeastern city of Zaporizhia, which still faces regular shelling by Russian forces, and the Sumy region, which was liberated shortly after the bombing. I visited northern towns. The war started a year ago.
Zelensky rarely travels with journalists, and the two-night train trip AP took with him was the most extensive since the war began, according to the president’s office. Here are some points from the interview with Zelensky, who returned to Kiev late Tuesday.
Throughout much of the war, Ukraine’s armed forces have been bolstered by billions of dollars of ammunition and weapons from Western countries. Zelensky welcomed the help, but said some of the promised weapons had not yet been delivered.
“We’re making great decisions about the Patriots, but they’re not really,” he said, referring to the US-made air defense system.
Ukrainian soldiers have been trained in the United States on how to use the Patriot system since January, but have not yet deployed in Ukraine.
Ukraine needs 20 Patriot batteries to protect itself from Russian missiles, but even that may not be enough as “no country in the world has been attacked by so many ballistic rockets”. Zelensky said.
Zelensky added that a European country sent another air defense system to Ukraine, but it did not work and “had to be changed again and again.” He didn’t name the country.
Zelensky also reiterated his longstanding demand for fighter jets, saying, “As for modern fighter planes, we don’t have any yet.” However, so far the West has not agreed to provide modern fighter jets, amid concerns it could escalate and draw the conflict deeper.
Zelensky was generous in evaluating Russia’s Vladimir Putin, calling him an “informationally isolated man” who “lost everything” in last year’s war.
“He has no allies,” Zelensky said, adding that even China, long an economic powerhouse that favored Russia, was clearly no longer willing to support Russia. Chinese President Xi Jinping recently visited Russian President Vladimir Putin but left without publicly announcing his overt support for Moscow’s campaign against Ukraine.
Zelensky said Putin’s announcement to move tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, close to NATO territory, shortly after President Xi Jinping’s visit was intended to distract from the fact that the Chinese leader’s visit had gone awry. Putin said the move came in response to Britain’s decision to provide Ukraine with more depleted uranium ammunition.
Despite Putin’s nuclear provocations, Zelensky said he did not believe the Russian leader was ready to use the atomic bomb.
“If a person wants to save himself, he’ll really… use these,” he said. “I don’t know if he’s ready to do that.”
Avoiding a nuclear disaster
Zelensky’s itinerary this week included a meeting with Rafael Mariano Grossi, head of visits for the United Nations Atomic Energy Agency. Grossi was in the area to monitor the situation at the nearby Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, which Russia took control of last year.
Intense fighting around Europe’s largest power station has put the facility and the wider area in grave danger. Speaking to Zelenskiy on Monday, Grossi said the situation was not improving.
Grossi called for a “protected zone” around the plant, but failed to offer terms that would satisfy both Ukraine and Russia. Grossi told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he believes a deal is “close.” But Zelensky, who opposes any plans to justify Russian control over the facility, said he was not optimistic that a deal was near.
battle for bahmut
The longest battle of the war has raged in the eastern city of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been embroiled in a bitter conflict for seven months.
Some Western military analysts have argued that the city is of no strategic importance, questioning why Ukraine is willing to take so many losses to defend its territory. Zelensky argued otherwise, saying that losing the war would give Russia a chance. he predicted.
“If he feels the blood and we feel weak, he will push, push, push,” Zelensky said, adding that the pressure would come not only from the international community but also from within his own country. Added wax.
“Our society will feel weary,” he said. “Our society will force me to compromise with them.”
Zelensky recently traveled near Bakhmut to visit troops fighting in the hard-hit city to boost morale.
Calls for tougher sanctions
Zelensky called for broader measures against Putin’s inner circle.
More than 30 countries, representing more than half of the global economy, have imposed sanctions on Russia, including price caps on Russian oil and restrictions on access to global financial transactions. Western powers have also imposed direct sanctions on some 2,000 Russian companies, government officials, oligarchs and their families. More than US$58 billion of sanctioned Russian assets have been blocked or frozen around the world, according to a recent US Treasury Department report.
Zelensky said more should be done to target Putin’s supporters.
ride on rails
Most of Zelensky’s travels in Ukraine are by rail. There are few other options. Travel by commercial aviation has been suspended, and the vastness of Ukraine and the unpredictability of life in the war-torn country make travel by car difficult.
However, the state’s rail system has remained remarkably stable throughout the war and is largely unaffected by the constant barrage of Russian missiles. There is one notable exception. A bombing at the crowded Kramatorsk railway station in April 2022 killed dozens.
Zelensky is on a train set aside for him and his delegation, which is visually almost indistinguishable from the blue and yellow trains that carry other people and supplies across the country. Few Ukrainians looked up as Zelensky’s train sped through rural towns, past picturesque fields and the occasional bombed-out buildings and bridges.
Karl Ritter of Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.