As he tries to keep the pressure on allies to lend greater support in this next phase, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is arguing that the West must view that fight as a critical pivot point in curbing the unbridled ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin and demonstrating the West’s commitment to defending democracy against a voracious autocratic power.
“There will never be enough. Enough isn’t possible,” Zelensky said, as he explained the challenges that lie ahead in the eastern region of his country. “There is a full-scale war ongoing today, so we still need a lot more than what we have today. † we do not have technical advantages over our enemy. We’re just not on the same level there.”
“For Biden’s confirmed $800 million in support, what’s most important is speed,” he added.
Though the US announced that it was sending 18 155mm Howitzer cannons and 40,000 artillery rounds as part of its latest package, Starr reported that a US official warned that the aid could be used up within a matter of days as heavy fighting intensifies in the Donbas.
“What the Ukrainians need desperately are long-range fires, rockets, artillery, drones that can disrupt or destroy the systems that are causing so much damage in Ukrainian cities, and which will also play a critical role in this next phase, if and when it begins,” Hodges said. “I would really like to hear the administration talk about winning and having a sense of urgency on getting these things there. Otherwise, this window of opportunity we have, the next couple of weeks, to really disrupt Russia’s attempt to build up is going to pass.”
A ‘red line’ in Mariupol
In its statement, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said it had surrounded the remaining Ukrainian soldiers and others who have been holding out at the Azovstal steel plant. “In case of further resistance, all of them will be eliminated,” the statement said.
Both Zelensky and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba framed the fate of Mariupol as another critical turning point in the war — in part because the human toll of Russia’s relentless shelling of that city is still unknown.
Zelensky has previously warned that the elimination of military forces in Mariupol could bring any further peace negotiations with Russia to a halt. On Sunday, Kuleba noted that it was hard for his country to continue talks with Russia after the atrocities in Bucha. Russia’s determination to raze Mariupol “to the ground at any cost” could become “a red line,” he said during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan.”
In a chilling admission, Zelensky told Tapper that no one yet knows how many people have died in Mariupol† “If anyone gives you a figure, it would be a total lie,” Zelensky said. He added that “several thousand, tens of thousands” were forced to evacuate the city in the direction of Russia, leaving no document trail, and that the Ukrainian government does not know where they are.
While he said he was still prepared to engage in diplomatic discussions with Russia if that opportunity arises, it has become harder to do so as he has watched the staggering toll of Putin’s aggression on his country. “What’s the price of all this? It’s people. The many people who have been killed,” Zelensky said. “And who ends up paying for all of this? It’s Ukraine. Just us.”
Putin’s Hardened Mindset
One of the greatest challenges for the Biden administration and its allies thus far has been determining where Putin’s “red line” lies and how much they can continue to assist Ukraine without provoking the Russian president to widen the war, potentially placing NATO troops in harm’s way.
Military experts interpreted the demarche as sign that Russia could contemplate targeting not only the weapons themselves as they arrive on Ukrainian soil, but also NATO supply convoys that ferry the weapons to Ukraine’s borders.
As world leaders try to glean what Putin is thinking — and how far he might go in trying to punish the nations that help Ukraine — Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who met face-to-face with Putin last week, said it was clear that Putin believes he’s winning the war and is operating “in his own war logic.”
“He thinks the war is necessary for security guarantees for the Russian Federation. He doesn’t trust the international community. He blames the Ukrainians for genocide in the Donbas region,” Nehammer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, referring to the fictional propaganda that Putin has spouted to justify his acts of aggression against Ukraine. “He is now in his world, but I think he knows what is going on now in Ukraine.”
Zelensky also issued a challenge to Ukraine’s allies when Tapper asked him whether the promise that world leaders make each year on Holocaust Remembrance Day — in the refrain “Never Again” — now rings hollow given that their efforts so far have failed to stop the atrocities that Russia has inflicted throughout the course of its unprovoked invasion.
“I don’t believe the world,” Zelensky said plainly when asked about that refrain. “Never again. Really, everybody is talking about this and yet, as you can see, not everyone has got the guts.”