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Defiant Zelenskiy promises Ukraine will fight back ‘with or without’ allies – POLITICO

MUNICH — With his country under threat of imminent attack from Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy received a standing ovation at the annual Munich security conference on Saturday – then bit the hands that cheered him on in a scathing speech that blamed Western allies for not doing enough to punish Moscow and move his nation towards the security of Western integration.

Without naming names, Zelenskiy took swipes at Germany for hesitating to send weapons and offered helmets instead. He also threw shade at the United States for refusing to impose immediate sanctions on the Kremlin for threatening Ukraine, which is now nearly surrounded by more than 100,000 Russian troops and sophisticated weaponry.

“We will protect our country with or without the support of our partners,” Zelenskiy said, before referring to Germany’s donation of 5,000 helmets.

On the sanctions, he asked: “What are you waiting for? We don’t need sanctions after the bombings, after we have no more borders, no more economy. Why would we need these sanctions then?

But Zelenskiy’s most caustic words were directed at Moscow, which he accused of lying and plotting to destroy Ukraine.

“Ukraine wants peace; Europe wants peace; the whole world says it doesn’t want war; and Russia pretends that it does not want to intervene,” he said derisively. “Someone of us is lying.”

Referring to a kindergarten that was damaged in a bombardment in the Donbass, Zelenskiy denounced Russian disinformation, saying that even school children could not be fooled.

“With their elementary knowledge of physics, even these kids will know that claiming Ukraine bombed these buildings is just plain stupid,” Zelenskiy said. He added that there was no need for high-level calculations to figure out which side was responsible for a spike in serious violations. And then he suggested that world leaders might have forgotten their history lessons.

“Has our world completely forgotten the mistakes of the 20th century? He asked. “Where does the policy of appeasement generally lead?”

As the audience gave another standing ovation at the end of his speech, some were clearly shocked by the rebuke from NATO allies, especially Germany, the conference host nation.

But while his remarks sometimes seemed rude or disconcerting, they were mostly correct.

Western leaders have privately confided for weeks that in the event of a Russian attack, Ukraine would be left largely to fight on its own, albeit with tons of newly donated arms and ammunition. Amid all the calls for a diplomatic resolution and warnings to Moscow of heavy sanctions, no NATO country is willing to send troops into the field.

While Western powers have sought to portray unity in their sanctions threats, there are still disagreements between the US and the EU. And EU leaders have avoided talks on the precise action that would trigger sanctions in the hope of preventing any open disagreement, while hoping that an attack from Russia would create the urgency needed to resolve disputes. at the moment of truth.

Meanwhile, minutes before Zelenskiy’s speech, Germany ordered all of its citizens to flee Ukraine, as Lufthansa began canceling flights to the country. France followed with a similar warning, while Washington urged its citizens to evacuate days earlier.

Shout for help

In his address and a question-and-answer session with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Zelenskiy, chastised Western allies for not offering Ukraine a clearer path to EU membership and for being unwilling to consider the possibility of Ukraine joining never NATO as a fundamental demand of the Kremlin.

Kiev has warned of Russian military aggression since the invasion and annexation of Crimea and the start of the Russian-backed separatist war in Donbass in 2014, he said.

“We appreciate the support, but everyone has to understand that this is not some kind of donation that Ukraine should… ask for,” he said. “It is your contribution to European and international security for which Ukraine has served as a reliable shield for eight years now, holding back one of the largest armies in the world.”

The Russian army was stationed on the borders of Ukraine, not the EU, and its rockets were fired at Mariupol, not EU cities – and it was Donetsk airport, not Frankfurt, that was destroyed during the fighting in the Donbass, he said.

“None of the countries in Europe knows what the military funerals are across the country in all regions,” Zelenskiy said. “And none of the leaders of the European Union know what it’s like to meet regularly with the families of dead soldiers.”

Zelenskiy also stressed that his country deserved credit for strengthening its armed forces and managing the war in Donbass while working to implement the democratic reforms demanded by Western allies to join the EU and the EU. NATO.

“Russia is trying to convince everyone that this was the wrong path for Ukraine – that no one is waiting for us in Europe,” he said. “Shouldn’t Europe tell them and prove them wrong? Shouldn’t Europe be saying today that our fellow citizens are in favor of Ukraine joining the Union?

“Why do we avoid this question? ” He asked. “Doesn’t Ukraine deserve to have direct and frank answers?

Amanpour also urged Zelenskiy to leave Kyiv at a time of such acute crisis. In fact, the Biden administration had warned the Ukrainian leader against travel, citing intelligence suggesting that Moscow might try to topple Zelenskiy and install a puppet regime.

But Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the security conference, praised Zelenskiy for attending in person, saying many did not think he would make it. Zelenskiy joked that he was having breakfast at home and would be back in time for dinner.

Despite the ominous outlook, Zelenskiy said Ukrainians are not panicking and his country is ready to negotiate peace in “any format”, in any location. The crucial factor was making sure Russia was at the table, he said – and he strenuously denied any possibility of Ukraine triggering another military escalation in Donbass.

“We’re ready to sit down and talk,” he said. “What’s the point of shooting and offering diplomacy at the same time?”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has insisted that his country is not a party to the conflict in Ukraine and has demanded that Kiev meet with separatist leaders from the occupied areas of Donbass. Russia has also repeatedly denied that it intends to attack Ukraine.

Zelenskiy countered that Ukraine was doing its part to implement the Minsk peace accords and accused Russia of obstruction. “Everything is blocked,” he said.

Despite the high tension, Zelenskiy, a comedian and television actor before entering politics, showed that he had not lost his sense of humor. When his translating device gave out, he interrupted Amanpour, saying “cyber attack”.

Asking for a new device, Zelenskiy mocked Russia’s refusal to send an official delegation to the conference. “You see, Russia is not here,” he said. “But they are there.”

On the edge

Zelenskiy’s speech came as a range of Western leaders – including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US Vice President Kamala Harris and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – used their own appearances to reiterate their support. in Kyiv and salute Ukraine’s restraint.

At the same time, they repeated their sobering assessment that a military strike from Russia seemed likely. As provocative false flag operations appeared to be underway Friday in occupied Donetsk and Luhansk – with separatist leaders calling for civilians to be evacuated – US President Joe Biden said he believed Putin had decided to launch an invasion of Ukraine, although he has always called on the Kremlin to choose a diplomatic route instead.

“NATO allies, we have the same assessment, we share the same information and we all see the increasing risk – the likelihood – of an attack,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

“Of course, there is no 100% certainty,” Stoltenberg added. “And it’s never too late for Russia to change its plans and stop preparing for war, take a step back and start engaging in political dialogue.”

Scholz, who was attending his first Munich conference as chancellor, said he used a recent visit to Moscow to push back against Putin’s claims that NATO had acted aggressively after the outbreak of the war. Yugoslavia. And he again called on the Russian leader to seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Harris, meanwhile, reiterated Biden’s warnings that Russia will face the toughest economic sanctions ever if it attacks Ukraine.

“We will impose far-reaching financial sanctions and export controls,” the vice president said. “We will target financial institutions and key industries in Russia. And we will target those who are complicit and those who aid and abet this unprovoked invasion. »

If Putin wanted NATO troops out of Eastern Europe, she noted, he would actually get the opposite result. “We won’t stop at economic measures,” she said. “We will further strengthen our NATO allies on the eastern flank.”

Von der Leyen, in his remarks, accused Russia of using gas supplies as a weapon, but insisted EU countries would get through the current winter without problems.

After Zelenskiy’s speech, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the threat real and persistent.

“Who knows what his next step will be,” he said of Putin. “Today it’s Ukraine, tomorrow it could be the Baltic countries, the day after tomorrow it could be Poland and Finland.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson took on a broader goal, saying an invasion of Ukraine would have serious global ramifications, potentially emboldening other rogue acts, such as a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

“If Ukraine is invaded, the shock will reverberate around the world,” Johnson said. “These echoes will be heard in East Asia. They will be heard in Taiwan.

“We don’t know exactly what President Putin’s intentions are, but the omens are bleak, and that’s why we need to stay strong together,” he warned.

Erin Banco, Cristina Gallardo and Giorgio Leali contributed reporting.

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