Zelensky warns of ‘artificial deficit’ of weapons after withdrawal from Avdiivka

17 February 2024, 14:24

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech at the Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich, Germany
Germany Munich Security Conference. Picture: PA

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was speaking at the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of security and foreign policy officials.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned allies that an “artificial deficit” of weapons for his country risks giving Russia breathing space, hours after his military chief said he was withdrawing troops from the eastern city of Avdiivka.

Mr Zelensky spoke to the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering of security and foreign policy officials.

Ukraine is back on the defensive against Russia in the nearly two-year-old war, hindered by low ammunition supplies and a shortage of personnel.

“Ukrainians have proven that we can force Russia to retreat,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech at the Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich, Germany
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech at the Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel (Matthias Schrader/AP)

“We can get our land back, and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin can lose, and this has already happened more than once on the battlefield.”

“Our actions are limited only by the sufficiency and length of range of our strength,” he added, pointing to the situation in Avdiivka.

Ukrainian commander Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi said early on Saturday that he was withdrawing troops from the city, where outnumbered defenders battled a Russian assault for four months, to avoid encirclement and save soldiers’ lives.

“Dear friends, unfortunately keeping Ukraine in the artificial deficit of weapons, particularly in deficit of artillery and long-range capabilities, allows Putin to adapt to the current intensity of the war,” Mr Zelensky said.

“The self-weakening of democracy over time undermines our joint results.”

The president said that the troop withdrawal was “a correct decision” and emphasised the priority of saving Ukrainian soldiers’ lives.

He suggested that Russia has achieved little, adding that it has been attacking Avdiivka “with all the power that they had” since October and lost thousands of soldiers – “that’s what Russia has achieved. It’s a depletion of their army”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech at the Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich, Germany
Volodymyr Zelensky at the Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel (Matthias Schrader/AP)

“We’re just waiting for weapons that we’re short of,” he added, pointing to a lack of long-range weapons.

“That’s why our weapon today is our soldiers, our people.”

Mr Zelensky on Friday went to Berlin and Paris, where he signed long-term bilateral security agreements with Germany and France, following a similar agreement with Britain last month.

Ukraine’s European allies are appealing to the US Congress to approve a package that includes aid for Ukraine, 60 billion dollars (£47.6 billion) that would go largely to US defence entities to manufacture missiles, munitions and other military hardware for the battlefields in Ukraine.

The package faces resistance from House Republicans.

Mr Zelensky said on Saturday that the US “did a lot for us” and thanked Washington for bipartisan support.

He said he planned to meet US senators in Munich on Saturday.

They “have to understand (that) only in unity we can win (against) Russia”, he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech at the Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich, Germany
Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech at the Munich Security Conference (Matthias Schrader/AP)

Asked whether it would be a good idea to invite former US president and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump to Kyiv, Mr Zelensky replied: “I invited publicly, but it depends on his wishes.”

“If … he will come, I’m ready even to go with him to the front line,” he added.

US vice president Kamala Harris said after meeting Mr Zelensky later on Saturday in Munich that “it is in the strategic interest of the United States to continue our support”.

“History shows us: if we allow an aggressor like Putin to take land with impunity, they keep going. The other would-be aggressors then become emboldened”, Ms Harris said.

She added that “we must be unwavering and we cannot play political games”.

Standing next to Ms Harris, Mr Zelensky told reporters that the aid package stuck in Congress “is vital”.

It would provide a step forward for Ukraine, and “moving forward is much, much better than stagnation on the battlefield”, he said, stressing that Kyiv is counting on the US to remain a “strategic partner”.

Also at the conference, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said Congress’s delay has meant the flow of US weapons and ammunition dropped, with a direct impact on the front line.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US vice president Kamala Harris at the Munich Security Conference in Germany
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US vice president Kamala Harris at the Munich Security Conference in Germany (Tobias Schwarz/Pool via AP)

“Every week we wait means that there will be more people killed on the front line in Ukraine,” he said.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, whose country directly borders Russia, pointed to the history of the 1930s.

“If America isolates itself, it eventually is going to cost you more,” she said, warning that if “aggression pays off somewhere, it serves as an invitation to use it elsewhere, jeopardising global security”.

Mr Zelensky argued that “among us, there is no-one for whom the ongoing war in Europe does not pose a threat”.

“Please do not ask Ukraine when the war will end,” he said.

“Ask yourself why is Putin still able to continue it.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose country is Ukraine’s second-biggest military supplier after the US, renewed his call for other European countries to step up with more deliveries, and pointed to America’s military aid since the war began.

“A comparable effort must be the least that every European country also does,” he said.

By Press Association

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