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‘West afraid Russia will lose war, want Kyiv to win’
Published on: Sunday, May 19, 2024
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‘West afraid Russia will lose war, want Kyiv to win’
Zelensky (left) said that Ukraine needs 120 to 130 F-16 fighter jets or other advanced aircraft to achieve air parity with Russia. Putin is trying to create a security zone in the border regions.
KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an exclusive interview with AFP on Friday he expects Russia to step up its offensive in the northeast and warned Kyiv only has a quarter of the air defences it needs to hold the front line.

Russian forces, which made only moderate advances in recent months, launched a surprise assault in Kharkiv region on May 10 that has resulted in their biggest territorial gains in a year-and-a-half.

Zelensky said Russian troops managed to advance between five to 10 kilometres (3-6 miles) along the northeastern border before being stopped by Ukrainian forces, but added that the region could be the “first wave” in a wider offensive.

“I won’t say it’s a great success (for Russia) but we have to be sober and understand that they are going deeper into our territory,” he said, speaking from Kyiv in his first interview with foreign media since the offensive began.

As Western allies press for a quick end to the war, Zelensky insisted Ukraine is still playing the long game.

“The West wants the war to end. Period. As soon as possible. And, for them, this is a fair peace,” he said.

“We are in a nonsense situation where the West is afraid that Russia will lose the war. And it does not want Ukraine to lose it,” Zelensky said.

Zelensky said the situation in the Kharkiv region has been “controlled” but “not stabilised”.

He doubled down on pleas to allies to send more air defence and fighter jets to combat Russia’s air superiority as the war grinds through its third year.

“Today, we have about 25 percent of what we need to defend Ukraine. I’m talking about air defence,” he said.

Ukraine needs “120 to 130” F-16 fighter jets or other advanced aircraft to achieve air “parity” with Russia, Zelensky said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a trip to China this week the northeastern offensive was in retaliation for Ukraine’s shelling of border regions and that Moscow was trying to create a “security zone”.

Russian forces have taken 278 square kilometres (107 square miles) between May 9 and 15, their biggest gains since the end of 2022, AFP calculated using data from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

Governor Oleg Synegubov said Saturday Ukraine’s armed forces had repelled two attempts to break through defences overnight, with the situation “under control.”

Ukrainian officials have accused Russian soldiers in Vovchansk of capturing dozens of civilians to use as “human shields” to defend their command headquarters—a claim AFP was not able to immediately verify.

“In the area of the city of Vovchansk, Ukrainian troops are reinforcing their defence to improve the tactical situation,” Synegubov said.

Ukraine has evacuated almost 10,000 people from the northeast border area since Russia launched the assault.

Putin said there was no intention at this stage to take Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second city, about 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the border. More than one million people still live there.

Military analysts say the northeastern offensive could aim to further stretch Ukrainian troops and resources, with Russia pressing its manpower and ammunition advantage.

Ukraine army chief Oleksandr Syrsky said Russia was trying to force Ukraine to pull up even more troops from its reserves.

“We realise that there will be heavy fighting ahead and the enemy is preparing for it,” he said.

As he anticipates a widening Russian offensive, Zelensky acknowledged issues with staffing and “morale” within Ukraine’s often outgunned and outmanned ranks.

“We need to staff the reserves... A large number of (brigades) are empty,” Zelensky told AFP.

With no end to the war in sight, Ukraine’s army is struggling to recruit, while fighters are growing exhausted and angry at the lack of rotation.

Many Ukrainian soldiers have been fighting for more than two years without the possibility of being discharged.

Under a controversial mobilisation law that comes into force Saturday, Kyiv has lowered the age at which men can be drafted from 27 to 25 and tightened punishments for those who avoid being called up.

But lawmakers scrapped a proposal to grant soldiers who have served for more than 36 months the option to be discharged. 

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