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Zelenskyy says Ukraine not at risk of losing war with Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky handles his earpiece as he delivers an end-of-year press conference in Kyiv. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his military isn’t at risk of losing the war with Russia and expressed confidence the U.S. will deliver on its $61 billion in aid held up by a political standoff.

“I’m certain the U.S. won’t betray us — and what has been agreed upon will be fulfilled,” Zelenskyy told reporters in Kyiv at a wide-ranging press conference organized to close out the year.

Ukraine’s campaign against the Russian invasion has ground to a standstill as the war-battered nation approaches its third year of conflict, with more than $110 billion in financial aid from Kyiv’s main allies entangled in political infighting in Washington and Brussels.

Asked whether the risk that military may lose the conflict with the Kremlin after the standoff in 2023 was increasing, Zelenskyy said: “No.”

The Ukrainian leader spoke after making a tour of the Americas and Europe. Kyiv secured a European Union agreement to start accession negotiations, though the win amounted to a symbolic advance as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban held up a €50 billion ($54.7 billion) aid package.

Zelenskyy gave an account of a brief exchange he had with Orban in Buenos Aires during the inauguration of Argentine President Javier Milei on Dec. 10. He said he prodded the Hungarian premier on his lack of support for Ukraine — and why the two leaders couldn’t hold an official meeting.

“He couldn’t tell me,” Zelenskyy said, though said the Hungarian ceded ground on a bilateral meeting. “Our sides will work on it,” he said.

As Ukraine is gripped by the second winter of the war, it’s again fending off missile and drone barrages from Russia on critical infrastructure as troops are dug in across a front line that stretches from the Donbas region in the east to the Dnipro River delta in the south.

‘Very Sensitive’

Authorities in Kyiv are struggling to bolster the ranks of troops and lure volunteers. General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, Ukraine’s military chief, this week criticized the pace of conscription as too slow — remarks that highlighted Zelenskyy’s delay in signing a bill to lower the draft age.

The Ukrainian president said the military seeks to mobilize as many as 500,000 troops, but said he’s still awaiting a comprehensive mobilization plan that includes a blueprint for troop rotations and leaves. He called the call-up issue “very sensitive.”

Zelenskyy cited the cost, calculating that one soldier requires six civilians to make up the expense — meaning the government would need to come up with 3 million more taxpayers by next month.

At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin has seized the moment, making clear that has no plans to back down or compromise — particularly ahead of a presidential election in March. He said Thursday his nation remained determined to achieve its military aims, including holding ballots in four Ukrainian regions that it occupies and illegally annexed after it staged plebiscites that aren’t recognized by the international community.

Ukraine’s allies are beginning to contemplate scenarios should the deadlock work in Russia’s favor — and the impact a Kremlin victory would have for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO members are beginning to reassess the risks of an emboldened Russia.

The developments are contributing to a darker mood in Kyiv. The number of citizens who see the country and its war effort going in the right direction has fallen to 54% this month from 68% in May 2022, according to a survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology.

Ukrainians living in eastern regions showed a higher level of discontent, according to the Dec. 4-10 poll, which surveyed 1,200 respondents in regions controlled by Kyiv.


© 2023 Bloomberg L.P

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