January Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (2nd L) walks in the Congress center during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 16, 2024. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
(AFP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky courted the global elite at Davos on Tuesday with a mix of dire warnings and notes of hope, as fears grow over the future of Western support against Russia.
After addressing the World Economic Forum by video in previous years, Zelensky flew to the Swiss mountain resort as he warned that 2024 will be critical to defeating the Russian invasion.
Donning black military fatigues, Zelensky still possessed his star power, drawing the audience to a standing ovation and introduced to the stage as a “historical figure.”
But nearly two years since the invasion, Zelensky faces growing uncertainties with the US Congress deadlocked on sending more weapons, European powers increasingly impatient and the looming threat of the return of Donald Trump, who has dismissively rejected aid to Ukraine.
Zelensky insisted that questions on support were “only a matter of weeks” and said, “I believe we can also manage the question of aid in Congress.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this year must be — must be — decisive,” he said.
Zelensky met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who promised that the United states will “sustain our support” despite the question marks in Congress.
In his address, Zelensky rejected the prospect of freezing the conflict with Russia, which failed at a swift takeover in February 2022 but has largely succeeded in repelling a major Ukrainian counteroffensive in the east.
“Any frozen conflict will eventually reignite,” Zelensky said.
He noted that Germany and France had been guarantors of the earlier Minsk diplomatic process following incursions in 2014 by Russia, which seized the Crimean peninsula.
Calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “predator” who will not be satisfied, Zelensky said, to nods and gasps in the crowd, “I don’t believe that Putin is capable of changing because only humans can do that.”
Putin retorted Tuesday that Moscow’s forces had the upper hand, telling Kyiv its counter-offensive has failed and “if this continues, Ukraine‘s statehood could be dealt an irreparable, very serious blow.”
– Call for peace summit –
Zelensky nonetheless voiced openness to peace negotiations, albeit on Ukraine‘s terms.
Expanding on his previous proposals for a global summit, Zelensky said it could take place in Switzerland at the level of leaders.
“I invite every leader and country that respects peace and international law to join us,” Zelensky said.
Some 80 national security advisors met in Davos on Sunday to discuss the peace initiative, an amorphous concept backed in part by Saudi Arabia on behalf of non-Western states concerned by the conflict.
Looking ahead, Zelensky also met with leaders of major companies and touted Ukraine‘s economic prospects. He told them that Ukraine was ready to send more diverse exports after it managed to secure passage through the Black Sea for its vital grain exports, beating back Russian naval pressure.
Zelensky, however, has also been clear that peace means retaking territory seized by Russia.
“If anyone thinks this is only about us, this is only about Ukraine, they are fundamentally mistaken,” Zelensky said.
“Possible directions and even timelines of new Russian aggression beyond Ukraine become more and more obvious,” he said.
– Until ‘Russia fails’ –
The United States has sent some $44 billion in military aid to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion and billions more in economic support and funding for allies.
President Joe Biden’s administration released a final package at the end of December, with the rival Republican Party holding up a request for a fresh $61 billion due to an unrelated dispute about toughening US policies against migrants.
While many Republicans back Ukraine, Trump, the front-runner for the party’s nomination to challenge Biden, has loudly scoffed at further aid, saying it is wasteful and that Russia will likely win.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, sent Zelensky a very different message, telling him at their meeting that the United States will work until “Russia fails and Ukraine wins”.
© Agence France-Presse