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Ukraine can rest only once it has expelled Russia, Zelensky tells African journalists

Ukraine can rest only once it has expelled Russia, Zelensky tells African journalists
President Of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky briefs African journalists on 14 November 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo: Office of the President of Ukraine)

The Ukrainian president has acknowledged, however, that his country needed a large infusion of sophisticated Western weapons to achieve this.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is adamant that a “stalemate” in his country’s war against Russia is completely unacceptable and would simply bequeath the war to his country’s children to fight.

He was commenting on the controversial opinion of his military commander-in-chief, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, who told The Economist last month, “Just like in the First World War, we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate. There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.”

Zelensky was asked how he intended to break that stalemate, in a briefing for African journalists in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, on Tuesday, 14 November. He insisted that a stalemate would not be allowed to stand.

“A stalemate is a frozen conflict which is a sleeping volcano. It’s a matter of time for it to explode,” he said.

ukraine russia zelensky

President Of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi briefs African journalists on 14 November 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Photo: Office of the President of Ukraine)

He implicitly rebuked Zaluzhnyi by suggesting he had instilled despair in Ukrainians of their chances of ending the war and urged his people to be patient.

“Who is likely to invest in your country if you have a frozen conflict?” he asked. He noted that Ukraine had had a frozen conflict in its eastern Donbas region since Russia infiltrated it in 2014. Ukraine had, in effect, agreed to freeze the conflict through the Minsk Agreement, he suggested,  but then the war erupted again in 2022.

Ukraine had to bring an end to the war or it would repeat itself one day, he said. He and Ukraine could rest only when they had expelled Russia. 

Ukraine had already lost many of its sons and daughters fighting this war. “Do we have to tell our children they will also be fighting this war?” he asked. “And do we have to have more children now so we can also send them to fight this war?”

Zaluzhnyi said in the interview that Ukraine needed a radical breakthrough in technology to break the stalemate. He has said before that a large infusion of sophisticated Western weapons such as American F16 jets would tip the balance in Ukraine’s favour. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: War in Ukraine

At Tuesday’s briefing, he reiterated that Ukraine could not change the war decisively without F16s and more US Abrams tanks. The F16s were particularly important because Russia had full air superiority. Yet he also acknowledged Ukraine would have difficulty in sparing its pilots from combat duty while they trained to fly the F16s.

The Abrams tanks were good, but Ukraine had only 10 of them. 

Zelensky said Ukraine needed the F16s, the Abrams tanks and more air defence systems to support its current counteroffensive which is advancing very slowly because of heavy Russian defences

‘Difficult but doable’

“We don’t control the skies and this delays our advance. It’s difficult but doable.”

He expressed concern at signs that the financial and military support from the US and the European Union to Ukraine might be drying up, as conservative Republicans in the US Congress block financial aid and pro-Russian Hungary blocks EU financial support. Zelensky said any assistance was better than none.

A decrease in financial support would present Ukraine with some hard choices between paying for its war effort and providing essential social services to its population, he suggested. “This could cause a crisis.”

But it would not stop Ukraine from fighting, he insisted, recalling how Ukraine had resisted the Russian invasion at the start using only its own resources.

He warned that Russia would welcome any decrease in assistance to Ukraine.

Zelensky accused Russia of complicity in the war between Israel and Hamas. He was asked if he was concerned that it was distracting attention from the war in Ukraine and if that might diminish support for Ukraine.

He said Russia had intervened through its ally Iran to divert world attention from Ukraine — just as it had intervened in Syria in 2014 to divert attention from its invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea and Donbas regions.

Iran openly sponsors Hamas, which provoked the war with Israel by launching an attack on southern Israel on 7 October in which about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and some 240 hostages taken. Israel responded with a massive ongoing attack on Gaza in which more than 11,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed.

Ramaphosa ‘comprehended’ peace plan

Zelensky said he believed that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit to Ukraine in June last year had changed his attitude towards the Russia-Ukraine war and he had come to understand it better.

He said after Ramaphosa and other African leaders involved in the African peace mission had met him they were able to travel on to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin armed with truthful arguments and did not just have to listen to his false narratives of the war.

“They could see the shameful consequences of Russia’s assault on our people and especially our children,” Zelensky said.

“They left with a better understanding of what Ukraine was fighting for,” he said and a better understanding that it was Russia which had assaulted Ukraine.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Foreign ministers of Ukraine and SA hit it off in Pretoria

Zelensky said he had spoken to Ramaphosa about Ukraine’s own peace formula — which calls for the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine — “and he comprehended it”.

He added that Ramaphosa had his own vision and Zelensky had told him the Ukrainians were victims, but if the Africans had any proposals that aligned with Ukraine’s peace formula they were happy to hear it. 

After the visit, Ramaphosa sent his national security adviser, Sydney Mufamadi, to participate in the first round of international talks on the Ukraine peace formula in Copenhagen. Mufamadi has since participated in two more rounds, in Jeddah and Malta.

The African leaders had arrived in Ukraine with mixed emotions and information about what was happening in Ukraine. “But they left Ukraine changed. We could look each other in the eye,” he said.

Zelensky’s observations reflect a general view that Ramaphosa’s visit to Ukraine — during which he was taken to the sites of atrocities by Russian troops against civilians during the first weeks of the war in the city of Bucha — had changed his previously pro-Russian perspective.

Food security

African countries have been particularly concerned that the war in Ukraine has interrupted the exports of grains and other foodstuffs from the country, which was one of the world’s major breadbaskets. This caused food shortages and spiked prices, hitting Africa especially hard.

Several of the African journalists asked Zelensky about the impact of Russia pulling out of the year-old Black Sea Grain Initiative in July. Under that deal, Russia lifted its blockage of Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea. 

Zelensky noted that more than 32 million tonnes of grain and other food had been exported between August 2022 and July 2023 when Russia withdrew. He said that had caused the price of grains to rocket by 200-300%.

But he assured the Africans that Ukraine’s own parallel grain corridor would remedy the problem. In its first month, it had exported about four million tonnes — which was about the level of its exports before the war.

He said Ukraine had created its parallel corridor not only because it needed the revenue from grain exports, but also to demonstrate that it was committed to food security.

Russia was trying to hinder Ukrainian exports through attacks on its grain export facilities, such as missile strikes on its main port, Odesa. Recently, a missile struck a Liberian-flagged iron ore carrier in the port of Pivdennyi, killing the pilot.

Zelensky said Ukraine was managing to get grain out through the Black Seat in part because Ukrainian attacks on Russian navy vessels and aircraft had forced them to withdraw from the Ukrainian coast. And Ukraine was working with the UK to provide insurance for cargo ships carrying grain via the Ukrainian corridor.

He said that Ukraine intended to create grain hubs in other countries, including possibly South Africa, to diversify sources of grain in different seasons and make Africa less dependent on the circumstances of the war.

He noted that Ukraine was making greater use of other routes to market grain and other foodstuffs, including by road, rail and the Danube River into Europe. DM

Peter Fabricius is in Ukraine on a fact-finding mission for African journalists that is sponsored by the Ukrainian government.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Cornay Bester says:

    Thank you DM. If only the other side was so open to journalists.

  • Gabriel Smit says:

    ‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭13:23‬ ‭‬‬
    “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?…” or the clown his demeanour?

  • Richard Bryant says:

    There is no question that putins fingerprints are all over the attack by hamas on Israel. It was well too coordinated, resourced and surprising to have been initiated by hamas alone. And the way Israel has retaliated plays straight into putins game, making the killing of civilians during war a norm.

    The civilised world needs to wake up and freeze out all autocrats who disrespect the rights of all people, especially those without any voice. And misery suffered by people in places like Syria, Sudan, West Africa, Iran, Afghanistan are all designed by putin to flood Europe with refugees and together with fake social media campaigns, create dissent and populism in places wherever democracy exists.

    Zelensky and his people are fighting our fight and defeat for them would be defeat for all of us. He needs our loud and vigorous support.

    • Max Ozinsky says:

      Strange comment – so Nato withdraws from 15 years of illegally occupying Afgahnistan, causing thousands of civilian casualties and you blame Putin!!

      • Richard Bryant says:

        I said nothing about the behaviour of the western forces in Iraq and Afganistan which was appalling. I made my comments regarding the suppression of democracy by putin and the killing of civilians by super powers, arms dealers and rogues. Putin is trying to justify his murderous behaviour by drawing the West into conflicts which he creates. But don’t come with this NATO/ Oppenheimer conspiracy theories. NATO was created for the exact purpose for which it is now being tested. The countries which joined NATO did so because the people, particularly in eastern Europe, became tired of being subject to russias/putins brutality. Putin is scared to attack NATO directly so he does so by creating misery for people who risk their lives in little boats to get to a place of safety. What he is doing in Ukraine by raising whole cities to the ground is no different to what he has done in Alleppo, Khartoum and soon to be out of the way towns in West Africa. Even his own people are being sent in human waves into battle in Ukraine and slaughtered in their thousands, and the only response from putin is to send in more. The world needs to stop this butcher.

        • Max Ozinsky says:

          And misery suffered by people in places like Syria, Sudan, West Africa, Iran, Afghanistan are all designed by putin to flood Europe with refugees

      • Paddy Ross says:

        I was not aware that Nato was involved in Afghanistan?

        • Dietmar Horn says:

          At the request of participants in the first Afghanistan conference in 2001, the UN Security Council approved on December 20, 2001 (Resolution 1386) the establishment of the ISAF Protection Force, a security and reconstruction mission led by NATO. The operation is not a peacekeeping Blue Helmet mission, but rather a so-called peace-enforcing operation under the responsibility of the states involved.

  • Max Ozinsky says:

    “Zelensky’s observations reflect a general view that Ramaphosa’s visit to Ukraine — during which he was taken to the sites of atrocities by Russian troops against civilians during the first weeks of the war in the city of Bucha — had changed his previously pro-Russian perspective.”

    There you have it blind Ukrainian supporters. Zelensky desperately trying to win Pretoria over to his side. He does not see South Africa as irrelevant like you do.

    • Vusi Dladla says:

      I wonder how Brenthusrt Foundation will react to this: “…but if the Africans had any proposals that aligned with Ukraine’s peace formula they were happy to hear it”. We were told there was no need for this visit: it was waste of time and money.

      • Max Ozinsky says:

        Brenthurst and Mills will probably change their line so they are not seen as supporting SA, it could threaten their funding from the Oppenheimers and the three character agencies.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Ozinsky – you live in a twilight world! Ukraine will accept any assistance from whatever source it comes from, including African leaders and journalists. This does not make Cyril the spineless and hypocrite anymore important or relevant! Remove your deep blinkers as no one takes a word that you utter, seriously.

  • Eddie B says:

    I am glad you got your turn Peter.

    And “… ongoing attack on Gaza in which more than 11,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed”. Maybe one should also state that those are Hamas figures. I see it thrown around but it hasn’t been independently verified.

  • Thomas Niemeyer Niemeyer says:

    Excellent reporting, good to follow + understand.

  • Thomas Niemeyer Niemeyer says:

    Thanks for your report, well explained and good to follow.

  • Egmont Rohwer says:

    All countries, especially Africa, would benefit if they all expelled the Russians

  • D Rod says:

    The wars stop either by a win (which is impossible for either side) or by negotiations. This guy is totally delusional. It is time to negotiate and stop killing Ukrainian and Russian youth for nothing.

  • Danial Ronald Meyer says:

    Insightful, interesting and well penned article, Peter. In true Fabricius style.

  • Max Hofmann says:

    This man is delusional sitting in his throne and demanding more funding for his war effort so that he can continue filling his pockets with EU US money.

  • Martin Engelbrecht says:

    Ukraine 100 000 dead and Russia 100 000 dead. A cabaret artist leading the war. Have the Ukraine people been asked if they want to be part of the west or Russia? Billions and billions being spent. Its time to drop a few atomic bombs. The west desperately wants Ukraines minerals and agricultural products. I don’t think any side is good.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Nonsense!!! He is a true patriot fighting for his country!! Easy to talk when you are an armchair critic and live in the West where you are far removed from reality and are allowed to voice your opinion, unlike in Russia, Iran, Gaza, China etc. that our vile government worships, licks their backside and can see no wrong in what they do and turns a blind eye. You forget that any country living under the tyrannical, murderous and revolting communist regime, would grab any opportunity to free themselves, which is what the east European countries have done. The monstruous Putin is just an extension of the old Soviet regime – same DNA. He rules Russia by fear, terror, murder, rape, torture, banishment, steals the country blind etc etc. Ukraine is not Russian, never was, and who can forget the 5 to 7 million Ukrainians murdered by that evil bestial dictator Stalin in the deliberate Great Famine and later, the deliberate Great Terror. Who in their right mind would pander to Putin’s fickle and evil dreams of empire, which will just mean enslavement and the obliteration of your language, culture etc. So what if he is an actor? Reagan was one and a great president too. We have Cyril the buffoon – a lawyer and trade unionist, but nothing but a failure and a total fraud.

  • Clifford Saunders says:

    This article is incredibly biased and anti Russian. The Russians have always said that Ukraine should be a neutral country and a redline would be Ukraine joining NATO. How would US like having Russian nukes housed in Mexico ?? Also the Minsk agreement was renaged upon by the West. The US is fighting a proxy war against Russia – till the last Ukrainian….This is no stale-mate, there are no young men left! 400k thousand estimated dead!! Mainstream media are complicit in this decimation of Ukraine. Which country over the past 20 years has the most blood on their hands?? USA… And they are once again killing …let’s add Gaza and next in line is Iran and Lebanon. For the USA war is business.

    • Gavin Hillyard says:

      There is some truth in both sets of arguments above. On the one hand nobody can dispute the tyrannical nature of Communism. Stalin has gone down as an evil supressor and murderer of millions of his own people and those of other countries. Putin is cast in the same mold. The USA has been interfering, destabilizing, supporting this regime, undermining that, since the end of the Second World War – all in their own selfish financial interests. One wonders where all of this will end.

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