June 10, 2023

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had told European leaders to rapidly increase the supply of modern weapons to his forces, particularly jet fighters and long-range missile systems, otherwise, they should prepare for the war dragging on for years.

Speaking on a train to Kyiv after his third visit in two days to war-ravaged areas near the front lines in the south and east of Ukraine, Zelenskyy gave an emotional account of what he had seen as he addressed a summit of European Union leaders gathered in Brussels via video link, an EU official said.

In a long and sharply worded address at times, Zelenskyy on Thursday said it was up to the EU as a bloc to take action to contain Russia as its invasion of Ukraine enters the second year.

While he welcomed a recent EU plan to send Kyiv 1 million artillery shells, he kept up his demands for warplanes and missiles that he believes will be more effective at pushing back Russian forces.

Zelenskyy’s comments represented an unusually open display of frustration with European nations who have donated to Ukraine’s war effort. He also complained that the EU appeared to be in no hurry to impose more sanctions against Moscow.

“If Europe waits, the evil may have time to regroup and prepare for years of war. It is in your power to prevent this,” he told EU leaders.

It was the EU, the Ukrainian leader said, that had delayed decisions on providing long-range weapons and modern fighter aircraft as well as in moving forward with talks on granting his country EU membership.

“Dear colleagues, do you not 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 keep delaying the transfer of weapons to our soldiers … we need modern aircraft. We talked about this. Is there truly any rational motivation in delays concerning modern aircraft?”

“God forbid anyone in the world should see their 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 his or her own country.”

Zelenskyy also thanked Poland and Slovakia – now NATO members and formerly part of the Soviet Union-era Warsaw Pact – for agreeing to supply Soviet-built MiG aircraft that Ukrainian pilots can fly without additional training. Other Western allies have expressed severe reservations about sending up-to-date western fighters to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shakes hands with a soldier during an awarding ceremony at a position near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Wednesday, March 22, 2023 [Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP]

Zelenskyy’s 48 hours of visits far from Kyiv this week came as improving weather sets the stage for possible new offensives by both sides.

The biting winter weather, followed by mud as the ground thawed out, has prevented significant changes on the battlefield, and the war has largely been deadlocked in recent months.

But Zelenskyy’s plea to the EU also came as Oleksandr Syrsky, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, appeared to hint at a much-anticipated Ukraine counteroffensive when he said on Thursday his forces planned to take advantage of the fact Russian troops appeared to be “exhausted” near Bakhmut, the scene of the longest and bloodiest battle since Moscow’s invasion last year.

“The aggressor has not given up hope of taking Bakhmut at all costs despite losses in manpower and equipment,” Syrsky said.

“Sparing nothing, they are losing significant strength and becoming exhausted. Very soon we will take advantage of this opportunity, like we did near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupiansk,” he said, referring to successful Ukrainian counter-offensives last year.

Kyiv considers Bakhmut key to holding back Russian forces along the entire eastern front.

The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group said this week that his forces were in control of about 70 percent of Bakhmut. A Russian aide in the wider Donetsk region has said the city was “practically surrounded”.

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