Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had instructed European leaders to rapidly increase the supply of modern weapons to its armed forces, especially fighter jets and long-range missile systems, or they would have to prepare for a war that would drag on for years.
Speaking on the train to Kiev after his third visit in two days to war-ravaged areas near the front lines in southern and eastern Ukraine, Zelenskyy gave an emotional account of what he had witnessed as he met a summit of leaders of the European Union speech. in Brussels via video link, an EU official said.
In a lengthy and at times sharply worded speech, Zelensky said on Thursday it is up to the EU as a bloc to take action to contain Russia as Ukraine’s invasion enters its second year.
While he welcomed a recent EU plan to send Kiev 1 million artillery shells, he maintained his demands for fighter jets and missiles that he says will be more effective in pushing back Russian forces.
Zelenskyy’s comments represented an unusually public expression of frustration towards European nations that have donated to Ukraine’s war effort. He also complained that the EU seemed in no hurry to impose more sanctions on Moscow.
“If Europe waits, evil may have time to regroup and prepare for years of war. It is in your power to prevent this,” he told EU leaders.
If Europe hesitates, evil can prepare for years of war, it is in your power not to let this happen – speech by Volodymyr Zelensky to the participants of the European Council meeting ➡️
— UKR Mission to the EU (@UA_EUMission) March 23, 2023
It was the EU, the Ukrainian leader said, who had delayed decisions on supplying long-range weapons and modern fighter jets, as well as the progress of talks on granting EU membership to his country.
“Dear Colleagues, don’t you feel that we have had fewer successes than delays in our joint actions? Unfortunately that is the case. And the Kremlin sees that,” he said.
“We cannot continue to delay the transfer of weapons to our soldiers… we need modern aircraft. We’ve talked about this. Is there really a rational motivation for delays with regard to modern aircraft?”
“God forbid anyone in the world sees its cities empty because of the threat of terrorist attacks, such as Kramatorsk or dozens of other cities of Donbas,” Zelenskyy said, reflecting on his visit to the front lines.
“God forbid anyone should see it happen in their own country.”
Zelenskyy also thanked Poland and Slovakia – now NATO members and formerly part of the Soviet Union’s Warsaw Pact – for agreeing to provide Soviet-built MiG aircraft that would allow Ukrainian pilots to fly without additional training. Other Western allies have expressed serious reservations about sending up-to-date Western fighters to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy’s 48-hour visit far from Kiev this week came as improving weather set the stage for possible new offensives from both sides.
The biting winter weather, followed by mud as the ground thawed, has prevented major changes on the battlefield and the war has largely stalled in recent months.
But Zelensky’s plea to the EU also came as Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, seemed to hint at a long-awaited counter-offensive against Ukraine when he said on Thursday his troops planned to take advantage of Russian troops being “exhausted”. seemed to be. near Bakhmut, the scene of the longest and bloodiest battle since last year’s invasion of Moscow.
“The aggressor has not given up hope of taking Bakhmut at all costs, despite the losses in manpower and equipment,” Syrsky said.
“They spare nothing, they lose a lot of strength and become exhausted. Very soon we will take this opportunity, as we did near Kiev, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupiansk,” he said, referring to successful Ukrainian counter-offensives last year.
Kiev sees Bakhmut as key to holding back Russian forces all along the eastern front.
The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group said this week his forces were in control of about 70 percent of Bakhmut. A Russian aide in the wider Donetsk region has said the city was “virtually surrounded”.