Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday called for more European weapons production and warned that any pause in the conflict would only benefit Russia.
Zelensky was speaking in Latvia, the last stage of his tour of Ukraine's staunch Baltic allies, amid an escalation of deadly strikes and as the war against Russia nears its second anniversary.
“This year, Ukraine will make every effort to create a new European arsenal to prevent Russian aggression against Europe,” Zelensky said in Riga.
He made the statement during a press conference in Riga, following visits to Lithuania and Estonia as part of his first trip abroad in 2024.
Earlier on Thursday in Estonia's capital Tallinn, he warned that any “pauses” in Ukraine's defense against the Russian invasion would only help Moscow to re-arm and allow it to “run us over.”
“Give the Russian Federation two to three years, then they will simply run us over,” he said at a news conference with the Estonian President Alar Karis.
“We wouldn't take that risk... There will be no pauses in favor of Russia.”
Zelensky’s trip comes as he seeks to bolster wavering support among other Western backers, with decisions on fresh aid packages to Kyiv stalled in the US and the European Union.
Karis called for “no limits on providing Ukraine with arms.”
He also suggested that Kyiv should be allowed to strike inside Russia with Western weapons.
“We must understand that in a war it's inevitable to attack the military objects of the aggressor, to slow the enemy's forces down and weaken them,” he said.
- 'Better armed than tyranny' -
In Tallinn, Zelensky restated Ukraine's credentials for NATO membership, arguing that its army would strengthen the bloc's eastern flank.
NATO would gain “an army with military experience – not theory but practice,” he said.
Ukraine has expressed some frustration towards Western allies for the lack of a timeframe to join the security alliance.
Zelensky also acknowledged that military-aged Ukrainian men had illegally left the country to evade army service.
“If they are of mobilization age, then they should help Ukraine. And they should be in Ukraine,” he told reporters in Estonia.
Estonia, one of Ukraine's main allies and a NATO member, has called for continued support for Kyiv as some Allies waver.
“Freedom should be better armed than tyranny,” Estonian premier Kaja Kallas told reporters speaking alongside Zelensky in Tallinn.
She also reiterated her government's pledge to spend 0.25 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on military aid to Ukraine over the next four years.
“We hope that this will be an example to everyone else,” Kallas added.
- 'Impossible to survive' -
Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics also pledged aid to Ukraine, announcing Riga will deliver “artillery shells, anti-aircraft weapons, grenades, drones” to Kyiv this year.
NATO members Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania meanwhile on Thursday signed an agreement in Istanbul on demining the Black Sea to ensure safe waters once the war is over.
The Russian navy mined Ukraine's Black Sea coastline in the early stages of its invasion nearly two years ago.
Zelensky appealed for badly needed air-defense systems when he began his tour on Wednesday in Lithuania, warning that Western hesitation on aid for Ukraine was emboldening Russia.
As he spoke of a delay of the Western aid packages, Zelensky said it was “impossible to survive” without fresh military support.
Local Ukrainian officials said two Russian missiles had hit a hotel in the city of Kharkiv late on Wednesday, injuring 13 people including foreign journalists.
“There were no military personnel there,” Mayor Igor Terekhov posted on Telegram.
Hours earlier, the authorities in the Russian border city of Belgorod said on Wednesday they had evacuated dozens of children following deadly Ukrainian missile strikes there.
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