Zelensky urges allies to send arms and warns ‘artificial shortage’ of weapons only helps Putin

Ukrainian president says delays to military aid – particularly from the US – are handing Russia the adavantage on the battlefield

Bel Trew
Sunday 18 February 2024 17:28 GMT
Lack of artillery, long-range capacity helps Putin, Zelensky tells Munich meeting

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has urged allies to help plug Ukraine’s “artificial deficit of weapons” just hours after his military chief announced a withdrawal from the eastern city of Avdiivka, which Kyiv has been struggling to hold for months.

Addressing world leaders, diplomats and military officials gathered at the Munich Security Conference, Mr Zelensky warned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatened not just Europe but every country, as it was “war against any rules at all”.

“Keeping Ukraine in the artificial deficit of weapons, particularly in the deficit of artillery and long range capabilities allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war,” he said in his opening address at the annual German conference, which is the world’s largest forum for discussing security policy. There have been delays over Western support for Ukraine, particularly in military aid from the US, in recent months.

“Russia has only one specific advantage at this time: the complete devaluation of human life. Constant Russian meat assaults prove this,” Mr Zelensky added.

He said that Ukrainians had proven that they can force Russia to retreat, citing the gains in the north, east and south of Ukraine.

“We can get our land back, and Putin can lose, and this has already happened more than once on the battlefield.”

“Our actions are limited only by the sufficiency and length of range of our strength,” he added, pointing to the situation in Avdiivka.

Ukrainian commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi said earlier on Saturday that he was withdrawing troops from the pulverised city to save soldiers’ lives as they were under threat of being encircled and cut off. Outnumbered Ukrainian forces have been battling a brutal Russian assault for four months.

Ukrainian soldiers near Avdiivka (Getty)

Ukrainian diplomats have told The Independent that in some areas Ukraine is outnumbered one to six in terms of military hardware and that they were having to ration artillery at great risk to the lives of their servicemen and women.

The front lines are now dubbed “the meat grinder”. Ukrainian commanders in past interviews with The Independent have said Moscow is throwing “an unlimited supply of men at the problem” and that Russian commanders were sending barrages of their soldiers to overwhelm Ukrainian units “like zombies”.

President Zelensky referenced the heavy Rusisan death toll, suggesting that Moscow had achieved little in its assault on the Avdiivka bar losing thousands of soldiers in a significant “depletion of their army”.

“We’re just waiting for weapons that we’re short of,” he added, pointing to a lack of long-range weapons. “That’s why our weapon today is our soldiers, our people.”

His speech also came just a day after Russia announced the death of prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny who was being held in a penal colony in the Arctic Circle.

The Ukrainian president joined some 60 world leaders gathered at the conference held in Germany this weekend, after whistlestop tours to Berlin and Paris, where he signed long-term bilateral security agreements with Germany and France, following a similar agreement with Britain last month.

Ukraine’s European allies are appealing to the US Congress to approve a package that includes aid for Ukraine amounting to $60bn (£47.6bn) that would go largely to US defence entities to manufacture missiles, munitions and other military hardware for the battlefields in Ukraine. The package faces resistance from House Republicans, particularly from Trump-supporting legislators.

Zelensky wants to take Donald Trump to the front line (AP)

The Nato secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, who was also speaking at the Munich conference, warned Congress’s delay has meant the flow of US weapons and ammunition plummeted, with a direct impact on the front line.

“Every week we wait means that there will be more people killed on the front line in Ukraine,” he said.

Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas, whose country directly borders Russia, raising fears of a potential invasion, warned any further delays threatens global security.

“If America isolates itself, it eventually is going to cost you more,” she said, warning that if “aggression pays off somewhere, it serves as an invitation to use it elsewhere, jeopardising global security.”

Bronwen Maddox, the head of British think tank Chatham House, who is attending the conference, told The Independent the issue of growing American isolation, no matter who is in the White House, was at the centre of discussions across the conference.

“Part of the debate… has been trying to make the point to the US that Russia doesn’t just affect Europe, it affects the US and everyone,” she said.

Casting a shadow over the conference was the impending US election and the possibility of a win by Donald Trump. Republicans aligned to the former president have expressed growing skepticism for funding a war in Eastern Europe.

President Zelensky acknowledging this said he was willing to show Mr Trump the “real” war by taking him to the front.

“If Mr Trump comes, I am ready to go to the front with him,” he said at the conference. “If we have a conversation about how to end the war, we must demonstrate to the decision-makers what this real war means, not what they write on Instagram.”

In his speech, Mr Zelensky pointedly reminded the world that no one escaped the threat of the ongoing war in Europe.

“This war defines more than just the place of Ukraine or the entire of Europe,” he said. “This is Russia’s war against any rules at all.”

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