Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky held his end-of-year press conference on Tuesday, Dec. 19, where he spoke to the media and covered various crucial aspects of his office's efforts in the face of the ongoing war with Russia.
Here are the key highlights from the conference:
Relationship with AFU Commander-in-Chief Zaluzhny
Zelensky dismissed rumors that he has a so-called “tense” relationship with Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhnyi, saying that they have a “working relationship” focused on the military achieving results on the battlefield.
He added that Zaluzhnyi is “responsible for the results on the battlefield as Commander-in-Chief.”
“Ukraine as a country is not about personal [relations]. For a second, we’re talking about a country of 40 million people,” the Ukrainian president said.
Zelensky said that the Ukrainian military has proposed mobilizing 450-500,000 people to reinforce the country's defenses against the ongoing Russian invasion.
The president said that he sought additional reasoning from military leadership for the substantial mobilization, citing the need for clear financial support.
“I said that I need more arguments to support this approach,” he said. Zelensky asserted that Ukraine needs approximately Hr. 500 billion ($13.4 billion) to mobilize 400-500,000 additional people.
Ukraine needs roughly six taxpayers to finance one soldier.
“How do we find three million more taxpayers from January on?” Zelensky asked.
Zelensky rules out mobilizing women but said that he could agree to lowering the age of conscription for me to 25 down from 27.
Slow Counteroffensive in 2023: Is a Ukrainian Loss Possible?
Despite discussions about a sluggish and unsuccessful counteroffensive in 2023, Zelensky rejects the idea that Ukraine will be defeated by Russia.
Addressing journalists' inquiries on the potential for Ukraine gradually facing defeat in the war, Zelensky responded:
“No... We were in the most challenging situation; we were nearly completely occupied—at least the central regions, the logistics of our state, roads, railways, and food delivery were under complete blockade, which we managed to break free from.”
“Now, Ukraine finds itself in a different situation.”
Ukraine's Accession to NATO
Although NATO stands out as the most robust means of supporting the country, Ukraine has not yet received an invitation to join the Alliance.
“But we are not invited to join NATO. Signals about partial participation, frankly, are nonsensical. Why? We have never received such an offer, not once from any of our partners. To be honest, it's hard to imagine how this could be.”
Zelensky expressed concerns about the high risk associated with Ukraine entering NATO “in parts,” as it could lead to a direct conflict between the Alliance and the Russian Federation, given Ukraine's refusal to recognize the occupied territories as part of Russia.
Consistent Game Plan for the War with Room for Tactical Tweaks
Zelensky said that Ukraine's big-picture strategy for the war stays the same, freeing the entire country as laid out in the constitution from occupation.
“The strategy cannot be changed; according to our Constitution, this encompasses our entire territory,” the president said.
However, Zelensky that Kyiv may fine-tune its day-to-day tactics based on how things unfold in southern Ukraine this year.
“While our overall game plan doesn't budge, we're open to adjusting our on-the-ground moves depending on what happens in the south. As we wrap up the year, we'll figure out our next moves. Sorry, but those details are staying under wraps for now.”
“No one knows” when war will end
It's unclear if Russia's war in Ukraine will end in 2024, Zelensky said. Zelensky said that statements that the war will last for years are speculative.
“When they suggest the war will persist for many years, they're speculating. Thoughts and opinions often diverge from the reality of the situation,” he said.
The war's outcome depends on many factors but mainly on people’s resilience, Zelensky said.
“If we retain our determination, we can confront skepticism and secure a future for our country. I'm not prepared to relinquish our homeland, and I believe millions share this sentiment. We're not prepared to let go of our nation.”
At the start of the press conference, Zelensky announced that Ukraine is set to receive additional Patriot air defense systems this winter.
“Several new Patriot systems will be in Ukraine to protect our country in the winter. I promised I wouldn't disclose the number ... ,” Zelensky said, adding that the promised weapons were a “very important result” of meetings with allies during recent trips abroad.
“I am confident that the United States will not betray us, that what we agreed on in the United States will be fulfilled, fully,” Zelensky said.
President Biden and the US legislator support Ukraine, Zelensky said. However, he acknowledged potential complications due to changes in Ukraine's main ally's internal political landscape, particularly in the upcoming presidential elections.
“If the policy of the next president, whoever it is, is different towards Ukraine, more cold or more economical, I think these signals will have a very strong impact on the course of the war,” Zelensky said.
Regarding the announced EU aid package of €50 billion ($55 billion), Zelensky remained confident, asserting that despite opposition from Hungary and its leader Viktor Orban, Ukraine will receive the assistance.
Talks with Orban
Zelensky hopes to hold talks with Orban, who had blocked the €50 billion EU aid package for Kyiv.
“We are neighbours and we are trying to find solutions for our questions, but for it we need to organize a meeting,” Zelensky said in English.
Drone Production in 2024
Looking ahead, Zelensky announced plans for Ukraine to produce one million drones in 2024, highlighting their crucial role in the ongoing war. This initiative aims to equip Ukrainian soldiers with domestically manufactured drones.
“I have a positive attitude toward increasing drone production and establishing specialized units. Additionally, there should be a dedicated infrastructure for managing drones. In terms of production, we aim to manufacture a million drones next year. We will accomplish this goal, and I am confident it will happen,” Zelensky said.
He also highlighted challenges related to bureaucracy and logistics, which have resulted in delays in delivering weapons to the military.
“I truly dislike the persistence of outdated Soviet-era bureaucratic processes. It's illogical that 26,000 drones were stored in one warehouse and didn't reach the front. Yes, it made noise at headquarters.”
“Big Victory” on the Black Sea
Zelensky said that Ukraine had scored a significant victory on the Black Sea, highlighting successful strikes on Russian warships and the securing of maritime trading routes.
The Russian’s fleet dominance of the Black Sea and its attempts to control Ukraine's activities there are diminishing, he said.
“Everyone can appreciate that the Russian fleet was deprived of their almost total dominance in the Ukrainian Black Sea,” Zelensky said, adding that Moscow had tried to impose controls over “what we should do, what we should export, and so on.”
Rejection of Talks with Russia
Zelensky rejected holding talks with Russia, saying there’s an absence of a genuine request to do so.
“I don't see a request from Russia. I don't see it in their actions. I see only arrogance and murder in their rhetoric,” Zelensky said.
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