Zelenskyy challenges Russian claims of victory, highlights Russia’s heavy losses

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an interview published on Monday that the notion that Russia was winning the nearly two-year-old war was only a “feeling” and that Moscow was still suffering heavy battlefield losses.

Zelenskyy, interviewed by the Economist, provided no substantiation of his allegation on Russian losses. He said Ukraine’s priorities in 2024 included hitting Russia’s strengths in Crimea to reduce the number of attacks on his country as well as protecting key cities on the eastern front.

Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin said last month Russia’s position was improving on the front lines and it would not halt the campaign until its objectives including Ukraine’s “denazification, demilitarisation and its neutral status” have been achieved.

Russian officials have dismissed as a failure a Ukrainian counteroffensive launched in mid-2023 in the east and south.

There was no immediate response to a request for comment from Russian officials on Zelenskyy’s latest remarks.

In his comments to the Economist, Zelenskyy acknowledged: “Maybe we did not succeed (in 2023) as the world wanted. Maybe not everything is as fast as someone imagined.”

But the notion that Russian forces were winning was a mere “feeling,” citing heavy Russian losses in the besieged eastern town of Avdiivka, which he visited last week.

“Thousands, thousands of killed Russian soldiers, nobody even took them away,” he told the magazine in the interview, held virtually.

In contrast, he hailed the “huge result” of Ukrainian forces breaking through a Russian Black Sea blockade, enabling grain exports by way of a new route along its southern coast.

If Ukraine lost the war, he said, Russia would be encouraged to advance against other countries because “Putin feels weakness like an animal, because he is an animal. He senses blood, he senses his strength.”

With additional support for Ukraine facing obstacles in the United States and European Union, more efforts were needed to persuade the world that defending Ukraine meant defending the world, he said.

“Maybe something is missing. Or maybe someone is missing,” he told the magazine. “Someone who can talk about Ukraine as a defence of all of us.”

Russia has said it is ready for peace talks if Ukraine takes account of “new realities”, suggesting an acknowledgement that Russia controls about 17.5 percent of Ukrainian territory.

Zelenskyy rejected any notion that Moscow was interested in talks, pointing to Moscow’s repeated waves of aerial strikes.

“I see only the steps of a terrorist country,” he said.

Any Russian call for talks, he said, “is not because they are righteous men, but because they don’t have enough missiles, ammunition, or prepared troops. They need this pause. Restore all their strength. And then with all their strength, turn the page of this war.”

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