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Russia not winning through arms — Zelensky

The war will be bloody, there will be fighting but will only definitively end through diplomacy



Photo Courtesy : AFP

KYIV (AFP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned only a diplomatic breakthrough rather than an outright military victory can end Russia’s war on his country, while pushing its case for European Union (EU) membership.

Zelensky also appealed for more military aid, even as United States (US) President Joe Biden formally signed a $40-billion aid package for the Ukrainian war effort. That call came just hours after Russia claimed to have destroyed a cache of Western-delivered arms in the country’s northwest.

He also insisted his war-ravaged country should be a full candidate to join the EU, rejecting a suggestion from France’s President Emmanuel Macron and some other EU leaders that a sort of associated political community be created as a waiting zone for a membership bid.

Zelensky, who will speak to the world’s political and business elite at the exclusive Davos forum via videolink on Monday, told Ukrainians in a televised address: “There are things that can only be reached at the negotiating table.”

Cruise missile ‘strike’

The war “will be bloody, there will be fighting but will only definitively end through diplomacy.” He added: “Discussions between Ukraine and Russia will decidedly take place. Under what format I don’t know.” But he promised that the result would be “fair” for Ukraine.

After just over 12 weeks of fierce fighting, Ukrainian forces have halted Russian attempts to seize Kyiv and the northern city of Kharkiv, but they are under intense pressure in the eastern Donbas region.

Moscow’s army has flattened and seized the Black Sea port of Mariupol and subjected Ukrainian troops and towns in the east to relentless ground and artillery attacks.

On Saturday, Russia’s defense ministry claimed to have destroyed a large stockpile of weapons supplied by the West in a cruise missile strike on the town of Malyn in the northwest Zhytomyr region.

Finland’s gas cut

Zelensky’s Western allies have shipped a steady stream of modern weaponry to his forces and imposed sweeping sanctions on the Russian economy and President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

The Kremlin has responded by disrupting European energy supplies. On Saturday, Russian energy giant Gazprom said it had halted gas supplies to Finland after Helsinki refused to pay its bill in rubles, which Moscow demanded in a bid to side-step financial sanctions.

Finland’s state-owned energy company Gasum said it would use other sources, such as the Balticconnector pipeline, which links Finland to fellow EU member Estonia. Moscow cut off gas to Poland and Bulgaria last month, a move the European Union denounced as “blackmail”.

The row over Finland’s gas bill comes just days after it joined Sweden in breaking their historical military non-alignment and applying to join North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Dogged resistance

Moscow has warned Finland that joining NATO would be “a grave mistake with far-reaching consequences”, and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has said it will respond by building military bases in western Russia.

But both Finland and Sweden are now apparently on the fast track to joining the military alliance, with Biden offering “full, total, complete backing” to their bids.

All 30 existing NATO members must agree, however, and Turkey has condemned Sweden’s alleged tolerance for the presence of exiled Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants.

On the ground in Ukraine, the fighting remains fiercest in the eastern region of Donbas, a Russian-speaking area partially controlled by pro-Kremlin separatists since 2014.

Prisoner swap mooted

On Friday, Moscow declared its bloody, months-long battle for the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol at an end.

Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenko said 2,439 Ukrainian personnel had surrendered at the plant since 16 May, the final 500 on Friday.

Ukraine hopes to exchange the surrendering soldiers for Russian prisoners. But in Donetsk, pro-Kremlin authorities have threatened to put some of them on trial.

A Russian negotiator on Saturday said Moscow would consider exchanging prisoners from Ukraine’s far-right Azov battalion for Viktor Medvedchuk, a wealthy Ukrainian businessman known for his close ties to Putin.