Zelenskyy: 'We Are Trying to Find Some Way Not to Retreat'

March 29, 2024
David Ignatius

This is a summary of an article originally published by The Washington Post.

The author writes:

  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered a stark message to Congress in an interview on Thursday as Russian missiles were pounding southern Ukraine: Give us the weapons to stop the Russian attacks, or Ukraine will escalate its counterattacks on Russia's airfields, energy facilities and other strategic targets ... The congressional delay in approving a $60 billion military aid package has been costly for Ukraine, Zelenskyy said. The military has been unable to plan future operations while legislators squabbled for nearly six months. He warned that hard-pressed Ukrainian forces might have to retreat to secure their front lines and conserve ammunition.  "If there is no U.S. support, it means that we have no air defense, no Patriot missiles, no jammers for electronic warfare, no 155-millimeter artillery rounds," he said. "It means we will go back, retreat, step by step, in small steps."
    • To describe the military situation, Zelenskyy took a sheet of paper and drew a simple diagram of the combat zone. "If you need 8,000 rounds a day to defend the front line, but you only have, for example, 2,000 rounds, you have to do less," he explained. "How? Of course, to go back. Make the front line shorter. If it breaks, the Russians could go to the big cities." "We are trying to find some way not to retreat," Zelenskyy continued. After the Russian capture of Avdiivka in February, he said, "we have stabilized the situation because of smart steps by our military." If the front remains stable, he said, Ukraine can arm and train new brigades in the rear to conduct a new counteroffensive later this year.
  • When I asked whether Ukraine was running short of interceptors and other air-defense weapons to protect its cities and infrastructure, he responded: "That's true... We are increasing our own air-defense systems, but it is not enough."
  • What Zelenskyy wants urgently are long-range ATACM-300 missiles, which he said could strike targets in Russian-occupied Crimea, especially the airfields from which Russia launches planes with precision-guided missiles that are doing heavy damage. These missiles recently hit Odesa and several other targets.
  • I asked Zelenskyy whether he thought President Biden was too cautious in supplying weapons, as hawkish critics sometimes charge. "I think he's cautious about nuclear attack from Russia," Zelenskyy answered. His own view is that Vladimir Putin wouldn't risk a nuclear exchange, but he conceded that the Russian leader is unpredictable: "He's crazy. There is nobody in the world who can tell you 100 percent what he will do. That's why Biden is cautious."
  • The lesson of war for Zelenskyy ... is that Putin should have been stopped sooner.
  • Looking ahead, Zelenskyy said Ukraine's options depend on what Congress decides. Until Ukraine knows it has continuing U.S. support, "we will stay where we are now in the East." He said Ukraine might conduct limited offensive operations, but "to push them out, we need more weapons." "We lost half a year" while Congress bickered, he said. "We can't waste time anymore. Ukraine can't be a political issue between the parties." He said critics of aid for Ukraine didn't understand the stakes in the war. "If Ukraine falls, Putin will divide the world" into Russia's friends and enemies, he said.
  • Zelenskyy has been the X-factor in this war, mobilizing his country and much of the world to resist Russian aggression. I wish members of Congress who balk at aiding Ukraine could have listened to the Ukrainian leader talk about the price that Ukraine has paid for its defiance - and the risks ahead for the United States if it doesn't stand with its friends.

Read the full article at The Washington Post.


David Ignatius

David Ignatius is a columnist for The Washington Post.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author. Photo by the Presidential Office of Ukraine shared under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.