In the interview, Ukraine's Zelensky challenges the West for hesitations

As his army struggles to repel Russia's ferocious advance across the front, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the United States and Europe to do more to defend his nation, dismissing fears of nuclear escalation and proposing that NATO planes shoot down Russian missiles in Ukraine. airspace.

Zelensky said he also appealed to senior U.S. officials to allow Ukraine to fire American missiles and other weapons at military targets inside Russia — a tactic the United States continues to oppose. The failure to do so, he insisted, has given Russia a “huge advantage” in the cross-border war that it is exploiting with attacks in northeastern Ukraine.

His comments, made Monday in an interview with the New York Times in central Kiev, were among the most forceful calls yet to the United States and its NATO allies for more help. Over the course of 50 minutes spent in the plush House of Chimeras in the presidential offices, he spoke with a mixture of frustration and bewilderment at the West's reluctance to take bolder steps to ensure Ukraine's victory.

Zelenskiy has long put pressure on the West, in particular to obtain more weapons. But his pleas this week come at a critical moment for Ukraine's war effort, with its army in retreat and a new package of American weapons yet to arrive in sufficient quantities. Not since the early days of the war has Ukraine faced such a serious military challenge, analysts say.

It is also a crucial moment in Ukrainian politics. Zelensky spoke on the last day of his five-year presidential term. Elections scheduled for March have been suspended because of the war, and he will remain president under martial law powers, with his term potentially lasting until the end of the war.

In the wide-ranging interview, Zelensky, 46, spoke of the heartbreaking sadness of visiting mass graves and consoling the families of dead soldiers, but also of his personal journey and the “recharge” he gets from the little time he has available . spend with his children. He said he would like to read more, but at night he falls asleep too early to go far.

He was very animated as he ticked off a list of actions he believed his allies should take to support Ukraine. He argued that NATO should shoot down Russian missiles flying over Ukraine – without the planes crossing Ukrainian airspace – saying it would be a purely defensive tactic and would pose no risk of direct combat with Russian forces.

“So my question is: what's the problem? Why can't we take them down? Is it defense? YES. Is this an attack on Russia? No. Are you shooting down Russian planes and killing Russian pilots? No. So what's the problem with involving NATO countries in the war? There is no such problem.

“Tear down what is in the sky over Ukraine,” he added. “And give us weapons to use against Russian forces on the borders.”

Zelensky also urged the alliance to provide more F-16 fighter jets and Patriot air defense systems.

“Can we have seven?” she said, asserting that Ukraine needs more Patriot systems, but will make do with that number to protect regions key to the nation's economy and energy sector. She suggested that a decision could be reached when NATO leaders meet for a summit in Washington in July.

“Do you think this is too much for the NATO anniversary summit in Washington?” she asked. “For a country that today fights for freedom and democracy throughout the world?”

Asked about potential ceasefire negotiations, he called for a diplomacy that avoids direct talks with Russia but unites nations behind Ukraine's positions for an eventual peace deal. He would start with plans to secure Ukrainian food exports to developing countries, prisoner exchanges, measures to protect a Russian-occupied nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, and the return of Ukrainian children who he said were kidnapped and brought to Russia.

He said he hopes dozens of nations will support such an initiative when they gather at a “peace summit” in mid-June in Switzerland. And he again insisted on a plan for Ukraine's membership in NATO.

He also welcomed recent suggestions from some allies that NATO is sending troops to train or support Ukrainian forces in Ukraine, although he added: “I don't see it, except in words.”

More immediately, he said the ability to use Western-supplied weapons to strike military targets inside Russia is essential to Ukraine's success.

Only by using these weapons to destroy logistics hubs in Russia and Russian aircraft on Russian territory, he said, will Ukraine be able to effectively defend itself from the recent assault in the northeast that threatens Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city.

“How do we respond when they hit our cities?” she said, noting that Ukraine could see Russian forces massing across the border before attacking, but was unable to strike them.

“They proceed calmly,” he added, “understanding that our partners do not give us permission” to use their weapons in retaliation.

The main reason for the West's hesitation – fear of nuclear escalation – was exaggerated, Zelensky said, because Russian President Vladimir V. Putin would refrain from using nuclear weapons out of a sense of self-preservation.

“He may be irrational, but he loves his life,” Zelensky said.

He also suggested there was another reason for the West's hesitation: Some countries were trying to maintain trade and diplomatic ties with Russia. “Everyone keeps the door slightly ajar,” he said.

It has been a tumultuous ride for Mr. Zelensky. He was elected in 2019 on a platform of negotiating peace with Russia, which his critics called naive. He has also pledged to crack down on corruption and has promised to serve only a five-year term.

A television personality before becoming president, Zelensky alternates between diplomacy to rally support for Ukraine and exhortations to its soldiers and civilians in the face of deteriorating military prospects. He said he has little time to see his son and daughter, ages 11 and 19, but called spending time with them his “happiest moments.”

“For example, I ask my son what's going on,” she said. “He says they're starting to learn Spanish. I'm interested in this. I don't know Spanish, but honestly I'm just interested in the time I can spend with him, whatever he's doing.”

“These are the moments that recharge you, give you energy. These are the happiest moments. That's when I can relax.”

He said he also recharges by working out in the morning and trying to read in the evening. “I'll be honest, any kind of fiction, I read at night, two, three, four, 10 pages tops, and then I fall asleep,” he told her.

He reflected for a moment when asked what he would do after the war, and seemed to contemplate the prospect that Russia would prevail. “After the war, after the victory, these are different things,” he said. “It could be different. I think my plans depend on it.

“So, I would like to believe that there will be a victory for Ukraine. Not easy, very difficult. It is absolutely clear that it will be very difficult. And I just want to spend some time with my family and my dogs.”

Zelensky passed a critical point in his presidency early in the war with the failure of Russia's attempted decapitation attack on the Ukrainian leadership in Kiev, which he said included a plan to capture or assassinate him.

Now, nearly 27 months later, it is unclear how or when his presidency will end. Ukrainian martial law, periodically renewed by the votes of Parliament, excludes the holding of presidential elections. Although his party, the Servant of the People, holds the majority of seats, party discipline has reportedly crumbled in recent months and Zelensky has struggled to pass laws.

After the shock of the initial invasion, 90% of Ukrainians said they trusted Zelensky; that figure had fallen to 60% by February, according to a survey by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology.

Competitive national elections have been a success of Ukrainian politics since independence in 1991, fulfilling the promise of a failed democratic transition in Russia, Belarus and some countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

International election experts supported Ukraine's decision to suspend voting during the war, as millions of Ukrainians would not have been able to vote in areas under occupation, as refugees in Europe or while serving as soldiers at the front.

When asked to assess the health of Ukrainian democracy, he said: “Ukraine does not need to prove anything to anyone about democracy.”

“Because Ukraine and its people are proving it with their war,” he continued. “Without words, without useless rhetoric, without just rhetorical messages floating in the air. They demonstrate it with their lives.”

Bill Brink AND Filippo P. Pan contributed reporting from Kiev.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *