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Zelensky warns Ukraine faces tough few months as it awaits delayed Western military aid

Ukraine is bracing for a gruelling few months ahead as it awaits delivery of delayed Western military aid and prepares for an expected Russian counteroffensive in May, the Ukrainian president has warned.

Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine has only received a third of the shells promised by the European Union last year, and is still waiting for news of a stalled $61bn (£48bn) aid package.

In the meantime, said Mr Zelensky, Russia is firing seven times the quantity of munitions at Ukraine than its forces are able to fire back. Delaying the delivery of military aid “loses lives”, he said.

“It will be difficult for us in March and April in different ways. Russia will prepare counteroffensive operations in early summer, or at the end of May if they can,” he told a press conference to mark the second anniversary of Moscow’s full-scale invasion of his country.

He said the Ukrainian army was ready to take that on following a recent shakeup in Ukraine’s military leadership, and that Russia’s attempt to repel Ukrainian forces over the winter had so far amounted to “nothing”. “We, for our part, will prepare our plan and follow it,” he said.

But the issue is the growing disparity on the battlefield, as Russia has ramped up domestic production of weaponry and poured hundreds of billions of dollars into its defence budget.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky answers media questions during his press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Sunday

(Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“It’s a challenge to fight a hybrid war with Russia and its resources,” Mr Zelensky continued, adding that “Moscow is exerting a lot of pressure in the Kharkiv and Kupyansk direction” – an area in the north of Ukraine that Kyiv’s forces had liberated from Russian occupation last year.

“Frankly speaking, the intensity of the Russian artillery was 12 to one at the end of the year; now it is a rate of seven to one. If Ukraine can bring that ratio down, we can push them back,” he said.

Ukraine is fighting to hold a buckling 1,200km front line two years on from President Putin’s full-scale invasion, a battle Mr Zelensky described on Sunday as a “fight for global democracy”.

The impact of the war on Ukraine has been devastating: around 10 million people are displaced, a quarter of the country remains occupied by Russian forces, and Mr Zelensky said on Sunday that at least 31,000 soldiers have been killed in the line of duty.

Local citizens clean a shop that was damaged after Russians hit it, in Kostiantynivka, Donetsk region

(Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The front lines have fallen into stalemate as the conflict has turned into a bloody war of attrition on the battlefield. Part of the problem has been dwindling supplies.

Ukraine announced last week that its troops had been forced to withdraw from the eastern town of Avdiivka, where they had been battling Russian forces for months.

Soldiers said the crippling rationing of artillery was to blame alongside Russia’s superior air power. Ukraine’s defence minister, Rustem Umerov, said on Sunday that as much as 50 per cent of the aid promised by the West was arriving late, resulting in the loss of “lives and territory”.

Mr Zelensky said that only a third of one million shells earmarked by the EU for Kyiv last year had been delivered, saying that production issues were to blame. He said he had received guarantees that the shells would be sent to Ukraine by the end of the year, but that in the interim, delays “mean more casualties”.

Zelensky meets world leaders as Ukraine marks two-year anniversary of Russian invasion on Saturday

((Photo by BENOIT DOPPAGNE / BELGA MAG / Belga via AFP) (Photo by BENOIT DOPPAGNE/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images))

There are also concerns about domestic squabbling in the US over a $61bn aid package for Ukraine, approval of which is currently held up in Congress after stonewalling by the Republicans.

There are fears that the US is increasingly looking inwards as it careers towards what is likely to be a hotly contested presidential election in November. “I am sure [Congress] will make a positive decision about this, because otherwise it will leave me wondering what kind of world we are living in,” Mr Zelensky said on Sunday.

“Our request is to get this assistance in a month. When we talk about American aid, we must understand that this isn’t a question of financial reserves, it’s about weapons. We’ll just be weakened on the battlefield. I don’t have a reserve – we have the weapons that we have.”

Calling 2024 a potential “turning point in the war”, Mr Zelensky said he felt positive about a recent and important shift in attitudes within Europe. European leaders and MPs have talked about the need for the continent “to step up” and fill the shortfall left by growing US isolationism.

Countries have taken concrete steps to help Ukraine, including increasing the production of 155mm ammunition – which is vital on the battlefield.

Mr Zelensky said: “Especially during the last month, I see that Europe is shifting. They know this is dangerous for them. Putin is not only our enemy, he is the enemy of all of Europe. I think they understand that – he will continue this war. We are fighting for global democracy; this is a serious moment.”


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