April 24, 2024

Zelenskiy estimates number of Ukrainian soldiers killed for the first time at 31,000 | Ukraine

Volodymyr Zelenskiy has for the first time put a figure on the number of Ukrainian battlefield deaths in the war with Russia, acknowledging that 31,000 soldiers were killed and saying 2024 will be decisive for the outcome of the conflict.

Speaking in Kiev a day after the two-year anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, the Ukrainian president said he believed his country would win despite recent military setbacks. He admitted that Western weapons were scarce and crucial at a time when his troops were spectacularly short of weapons.

They were running low on ammunition and at one point late last year fired one shell for every 12 unleashed by the Russians, he said. The ratio was now 1:7. “They have a great superiority,” he admitted.

Zelenskiy arrives to give his press conference in Kiev. Photo: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

He declined to say how many Ukrainian military personnel had been injured. He said such details could help Moscow, but that Western estimates of the number of Ukrainian deaths were too high. US officials have suggested that 70,000 soldiers were killed and 120,000 injured.

“It’s not 300,000 or 150,000. Every victim means a lot to us,” Zelenskiy said. He estimated the number of Russian dead at 180,000 and said there were 500,000 Russian casualties, including the wounded. He described Putin and Russia as a “ring of inhumans.” The Kremlin had killed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, he added.

Republicans in the House of Representatives in Washington have been blocking a $61 billion military and economic aid package to Kiev for four months. Zelenskiy said he hoped the US Congress would soon approve the aid package, which includes much-needed replacements for the air defense missiles used to protect Kiev and other cities.

31,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russia invaded, Zelenskiy says – video

“I am sure there will be a positive decision. Otherwise I wonder what kind of world we live in,” Zelenskiy said, emphasizing that almost all the money within the US was spent on arms manufacturers. “We count on the support of Congress,” he added.

Zelenskiy described 2024 as “a turning point” and said the outcome of the US presidential election in November would be a key factor. If Donald Trump wins a second term, he is expected to pull the plug on aid to Kiev. “This year will determine the format of the end of the war,” Zelenskiy said.

EU countries are trying to increase diplomatic and military support for Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron will receive European leaders for a conference on Monday. It will be an opportunity for the participants to “reaffirm their determination” to defeat Russia’s aggressive war, the French presidency said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Polish President Andrzej Duda will be present, as will British Foreign Secretary David Cameron. Zelenskiy beams in via video. He said on Sunday that he had asked Macron to supply Ukraine with Mirage fighter jets.

A soldier of the International Legion pays tribute to the victims of the war in central Kiev. Photo: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

Kiev also wants Berlin to supply its long-range Taurus cruise missile system to hit Russian targets far from the front lines. Scholz’s government has so far been reluctant to do so. Zelenskiy said he understood that Berlin was waiting for Washington to take the lead, as it had previously done with the delivery of main battle tanks.

Zelenskiy declined to give details of the long-range Storm Shadow system that Britain donated last year. When asked by The Guardian whether he would welcome Keir Starmer as a future prime minister, he replied diplomatically: “That is your decision. We have good relations [with the UK]. I spoke in parliament and met the government and the opposition.”

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He said there is currently no prospect of negotiations with Moscow. “Putin won’t call me. He doesn’t want to end the war,” he said. Zelenskyy’s peace formula calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops to Ukraine’s 1991 borders, including the return of Crimea, reparations and a war crimes tribunal.

He said a peace summit would take place in Switzerland soon, followed by another meeting later on a “different continent”. Russia is unlikely to attend. The Kremlin says four Ukrainian provinces in the south and east – including part of territory it does not control – are now Russian and that Ukraine must accept “new realities.”

Russia began its counter-offensive in the east of the country last October, and its forces have been creeping forward ever since. Zelenskiy said his commanders often made the decision to abandon destroyed villages with “10 to 15 buildings” to save the lives of their men. Russia had not yet achieved a strategic breakthrough, he argued.

Zelenskiy seemed optimistic during the press conference. He spoke mainly in Ukrainian and occasionally addressed reporters in English. He denied that his country was at its “weakest moment” and said the first months of the invasion, when Russian troops threatened Kiev, were worse.

He admitted that March and April would be “difficult” and predicted that Moscow would likely launch a major offensive in May. With the right weapons, Ukraine could also counterattack. Another 10 US Patriot systems would radically change the situation and allow Ukraine to defend its long front line, he said.

Zelensky declined to say why he recently fired his commander-in-chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi. “It is an internal matter,” he said. The change in military leadership was related to a “new plan.” Different versions had been prepared due to information leaks, he said.

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