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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - KYIV —The Israel-Gaza war is “taking away the focus” from the conflict in Ukraine, the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has admitted.
He said this was “one of the goals” of Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
And he denied that fighting in Ukraine had reached a stalemate, despite a recent assessment to this effect by the country’s top military general.
Ukraine’s counter-offensive in the south has so far made little headway.
This has prompted fears of war fatigue among Kyiv’s Western allies, with suggestions of growing reluctance in some capitals to continue giving Ukraine advanced weapons and funds.
Speaking at Saturday’s briefing in Kyiv with visiting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Zelensky said: “It’s clear that the war in the Middle East is taking away the focus” from Ukraine.
He said Russia wanted this focus to be “weakened”, but stressed that “everything is in our powers”.
Zelensky was also asked to comment on this week’s assessment by Ukraine’s chief military commander Valery Zaluzhny that the war was now moving to a “positional” or static stage, and this would benefit Moscow by “allowing it to rebuild its military power”.
“Everyone is getting tired and there are different opinions,” Zelensky replied, adding: “But this is not a stalemate.”
He admitted that Russia was “controlling the skies” and that Ukraine urgently needed US-made F-16 warplanes and advanced anti-aircraft defenses to change the situation.
The Ukrainian leader recalled that last year, there had also been a lot of talk about a stalemate on the vast battlefield in Ukraine — but he pointed to Kyiv’s subsequent major military victories in the north-eastern Kharkiv region and Kherson in the south.
Zelensky also rejected media reports that he was coming under growing pressure to consider negotiations with Russia.
“Today, no-one among EU, US leaders and others — our partners — is putting pressure for us to now sit down to negotiate with Russia, and give away something to it. This will not happen.”
Moscow on Thursday also commented on Zaluzhny’s assessment, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman saying the current battlefield situation was not a “stalemate”.
“All the [war] goals that were set must be achieved,” Dmitry Peskov said, adding that Ukraine must realize that “even talking about any prospects for the Kyiv regime’s victory on the battlefield is absurd”.
President Putin has repeatedly claimed that Ukraine’s counter-offensive had failed, while his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said this week that Kyiv was losing the war despite supplies of new weapons from NATO allies.
Meanwhile, the UK defense intelligence said in its latest report on Saturday that Russia “has likely lost around 200 armored vehicles during its assaults on the Donbas town of Avdiivka” in eastern Ukraine.
“It is plausible that Russia has suffered several thousand personnel casualties around the town since the start of October 2023.
“Russia’s leadership continues to demonstrate a willingness to accept heavy personnel losses for marginal territorial gains,” the report said.
Moscow has in recent weeks been trying to advance in eastern and north-eastern Ukraine — but Ukraine’s military says all the attacks have been rebuffed. The claims by the two warring sides have not been independently verified. — BBC
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