Ukraine warns against complacency in face of Russian threat

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned Ukrainian citizens against complacency in the face of an expected Russian offensive and called on western allies to speed up their assistance to Kyiv.

The Ukrainian president said he saw signs of some cities letting their guard down despite ongoing hostilities, a “weakness” his country could not afford.

“Everyone needs to understand we are at war — it’s not over,” he said in a press conference after a summit with top EU officials on Friday. “The resilience of all of our guys depends on both weapons and motivation. Motivation is given not only by the partners, it can be inspired by the spirit from within the country.”

Ukraine is bracing for an intensification of hostilities as Russia’s full-scale invasion nears its first anniversary on February 24. Ukrainian forces are under particular pressure in the eastern city of Bakhmut, where President Vladimir Putin is seeking a first significant battlefield victory since early last summer. Zelenskyy on Friday insisted he would not back down in Bakhmut, calling the city a “fortress”.

He urged his European partners to boost their support for the country, including by imposing sanctions on senior managers of Rosatom, the Russian nuclear company, citing alleged atrocities committed at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Zelenskyy called on the EU to accelerate the process towards Ukrainian accession, which has been a repeated theme during the talks with Brussels officials on Thursday and Friday.

He said Ukraine’s forces had a chance to fight back against a Russian offensive if allies supplied the right weapons.

The US on Friday was expected to announce it would send long-range smart bombs to Ukraine. But Washington is resisting Kyiv’s pleas for the Army Tactical Missile System, which has an even longer range of 185 miles, for fear it could draw Nato into direct conflict with Russia.

In Berlin, the German government on Friday said it approved the export of older Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, days after it announced it would send the more advanced Leopard 2 model and allow other European countries to send theirs. But getting those tanks on the ground will take several months.

Norway on Friday said it would buy 54 new Leopard tanks with an option for 18 more, while giving no details on how many of its 40-year-old tanks it could give to Ukraine. The centre-left government in Oslo is purchasing the tanks against the advice of its own head of the armed forces, who recommended strengthening air defences instead. 

Additional reporting by Guy Chazan in Berlin and Richard Milne in Oslo

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