Zelensky urges even tougher line on Russia as allies work to stay united

DAVOS, Switzerland – Hoping to bolster international resolve, Ukraine’s president told political and business leaders worldwide on Monday that it was not far enough to punish Moscow for invading Ukraine.

“This is truly the moment when it will be decided whether brute force will rule the world,” said President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Ukrainian leader spoke via video link to the World Economic Forum in Davos on a day when a Russian diplomat resigned with a blistering statement denouncing President Vladimir V. Putin, and when a Russian soldier was the first to be convicted by a Ukrainian court of a war crime.

Earlier in the day, as a sign of the wider implications of the war, President Biden indirectly responded to warnings from Ukraine and its most staunch allies that failing to stand up to Russia would encourage future territorial aggression, including by China. At a news conference in Japan, Mr. Biden bluntly stated that he would use military force to defend Taiwan from China, going far beyond what was necessary to help Ukraine, letting go of the long-standing US attitude of ambiguity about such a conflict. traps.

When asked how the US response might differ in the event of an attack on Taiwan, Mr. Biden began his response by saying that Mr. Putin “must pay a heavy price for his barbarity in Ukraine”.

NATO and the countries of the European Union have so far shown remarkable agreement on imposing harsh economic sanctions on Russia and supporting Ukraine, but some rifts have emerged. Hungary has blocked an EU embargo on Russian oil imports, although Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice-chancellor and energy minister, said on Monday he was “positive that Europe will find a solution within the next few days”.

And while some European countries, including Poland, have pushed for a peace deal to include Russia’s full withdrawal from Ukraine, others have pushed for a less ambitious ceasefire, leaving open the question of whether the West could agree to part of Russia’s territorial gains. The Italian government has submitted a ceasefire proposal that the Russian government received on Monday and is under review.

But it’s unclear where the fighters stand on a deal. Russia has kept its position obscure, alternately embracing and rejecting, sometimes in the span of a few hours.

Earlier in the war, the Ukrainian government said it would accept neutrality, drop the idea of ​​joining the NATO alliance – a key Russian demand and a feature of the Italian proposal – and be willing, under certain conditions, to discuss territorial cessions. It remains to be seen whether Russia’s struggles on the battlefield and mounting evidence of atrocities have changed thinking in Kiev.

The video appearance in Davos by Mr. Zelensky – sporting a beard, a T-shirt and a grim expression on his face – underscored the contrast to previous versions of an event that has become shorthand for indulgent self-importance. Russian officials and oligarchs, who usually throw extravagant parties, have been banned this year; in their place is an exhibition about atrocities in Ukraine.

Zelensky said sanctions should be pushed to the maximum, “so that Russia and any other potential aggressor who wants to wage a brutal war against a neighboring country knows exactly where this leads.”

He said that while the United States, the European Union and others have taken measures to cut off or reduce energy imports from Russia and other trade, and have blocked Russian banks from vital international networks, the measures did not go far enough.

“Don’t wait for Russia to use special weapons – chemical, biological and, God forbid, nuclear,” said Mr. Zelensky. “Don’t give the impression to the aggressor that the world won’t resist enough.”

Many foreign companies have suspended operations in Russia, but fewer have said they will leave the country permanently; Starbucks joined that shorter list on Monday. Mr Zelensky said companies in Russia should completely shut down “so that your brands are not associated with war crimes”, and invited them to move to Ukraine.

In Ukraine, fighting raged around the city of Sievierodonetsk, a prime target of Russia’s offensive to expand the wide swath of territory it has taken in the east of the country. American-supplied heavy artillery, 155-millimeter howitzers, has begun to reach Ukrainian front-line units, diminishing Russia’s advantage in heavy weapons.

On Monday, a court in Kiev found a Russian soldier guilty of killing a civilian and sentenced him to life imprisonment – the first verdict against a Russian prisoner. Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, had admitted to shooting a 62-year-old man while cycling in the Sumy region in the early days of the war. Ukrainian officials say they have documented more than 1,000 war crimes and identified hundreds of perpetrators, most of whom remain out of reach.

Zelensky said an attack last week on a military training center in northern Ukraine killed 87 people, far more than initially estimated, making it one of the deadliest attacks since the Feb. 24 invasion began.

Russia’s progress remains slow and losses are high. Britain’s Defense Intelligence Agency reported Monday that the Russian military “probably suffered a similar death toll” in just three months of fighting in Ukraine as the Soviet Union’s losses – widely estimated at more than 14,000 dead – in its war in Afghanistan of 1979 to 1989 .

Ukrainian officials say tens of thousands of their people, mostly civilians, have been killed. The United Nations refugee agency said on Monday that the war has forced 14 million Ukrainians — out of a pre-war population of about 44 million — to flee their homes, including six million who have left the country, in Europe’s largest displacement since World War II. The war has brought the number of displaced people worldwide to more than 100 million for the first time, the agency said.

Such information does not reach most people in Russia, where independent sources of information have been forced to close their doors, critics have been jailed or driven into exile, officials and Kremlin-controlled media grossly distort what is happening in Ukraine, and the government It is a crime to criticize the war or even call it a war or an invasion.

A few prominent Russians have spoken out, mostly from outside the country, but officials have followed the Kremlin’s lead.

But on Monday, a mid-level diplomat in Russia’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva resigned with a scathing public statement declaring the “bloody, witty and absolutely unnecessary shame” of his own country and accusing its leaders of only doing so. to give their own power and luxury .

“The aggressive war that Putin has unleashed against Ukraine,” wrote the diplomat, Boris Bondarev, is “a crime against the Ukrainian people” and also against the Russians. He said the State Department, where he has worked for 20 years, is “all about warmongering, lies and hatred.”

In an interview, he said that within the ministry “there are people – not so few – who think like me. But most, I think, are still captivated by this propaganda they receive and which they partly create.” He said diplomats sent misleading reports back to Moscow, telling their superiors only what they wanted to hear.

Partly as a result, he said, the Kremlin has “got Ukraine wrong, they’ve got the West wrong, they’ve basically got everything wrong.”

Matina Stevis-Gridneff message from Davos, Anton Trojanovskic from Istanbul and Richard Perez Pena From New York. Reporting contributed by Mark Landler from Davos; Zolan Kanno Youngs from Tokyo; Peter Bakker from Seoul; Andrew E. Kramer from Pokrovsk, Ukraine; Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv; Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva; and Matthew Mpoke Bigg from Krakow, Poland.

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