Wednesday, Dec. 06, 2023|
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ON BOARD A TRAIN FROM SUMY TO KYIV, Ukraine — A team of journalists from The Associated Press spent two days traveling by train with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he visited the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, which still faces regular shelling from Russian forces, and northern towns in the Sumy region that were liberated shortly after the war began a year ago.
The AP is the first news organization to travel extensively with Zelenskyy since the war began. Here are some takeaways from an interview with Zelenskyy as he returned to Kyiv late Tuesday.
Throughout much of the war, Ukraine’s military has been bolstered by billions of dollars of ammunition and weaponry from Western nations. Zelenskyy welcomed the help but said some of the promised weapons had not yet been delivered.
“We have great decisions about Patriots, but we don’t have them for real,” he said, referring to the U.S.-made air defense system.
Ukrainian soldiers have received training in the U.S. since January on how to use the Patriot system, but it hasn’t yet been deployed in Ukraine.
Ukraine needs 20 Patriot batteries to protect against Russian missiles, and even that may not be enough “as no country in the world was attacked with so many ballistic rockets,” Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy added that a European nation sent another air defense system to Ukraine, but it didn’t work and they “had to change it again and again.” He did not name the country.
Zelenskyy also reiterated his longstanding request for fighter jets, saying “we still don’t have anything when it comes to modern warplanes.” Poland and Slovakia have decided to give Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine, but no Western country so far has agreed to provide modern warplanes amid concern that it could escalate the conflict and draw them in deeper.
Zelenskyy was unsparing in his assessment of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, calling him an “informationally isolated person” who had “lost everything” over the last year of war.
“He doesn’t have allies,” Zelenskky said, adding that it was clear that even China — an economic powerhouse long favorable toward Moscow — was no longer willing to back Russia. Chinese President Xi Jinping recently visited Putin i n Russia but left without publicly announcing any overt support for Moscow’s campaign against Ukraine.
Zelenskyy suggested that Putin’s announcement shortly after Xi’s visit that he would move tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, closer to NATO territory, was meant to deflect from the fact that the Chinese leader’s visit did not go well.
Putin said the move was a counter to Britain’s decision to provide more depleted uranium ammunition to Ukraine.
Despite Putin’s nuclear provocations, Zelenskky said he does not believe the Russian leader is prepared to use the bomb.
“If a person wants to save himself, he really … will use these,” he said. “I’m not sure he’s ready to do it.”
AVOIDING A NUCLEAR DISASTER
On Zelenskyy’s itinerary this week was a meeting with Rafael Mariano Grossi, the visiting head of the UN’s atomic energy agency. Grossi was in the region to take stock of the situation at the nearby Zaporizhizhia Nuclear Power Plant, which Russia took control of last year.
Fierce fighting around the plant, Europe’s largest, has put the facility and the broader region at significant risk. During his meeting with Zelenskyy on Monday, Grossi said the situation was not improving.
Grossi has called for a “protection zone” around the plant but has failed to come up with terms that would satisfy both Ukraine and Russia. Grossi told the AP on Tuesday he believed a deal was “close.”
However, Zelenskyy, who opposes any plan that would legitimize Russia’s control over the facility, said he was less optimistic a deal was near.
“I don’t feel it today,” he said.
THE FIGHT FOR BAKHMUT
The longest battle of the war is raging in the eastern city of Bakhmut, where Ukrainian and Russian forces have been locked in a grinding conflict for seven months.
Some Western military analysts have questioned why Ukraine is willing to suffer so many losses to defend the territory, arguing that the city is not of strategic significance.
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