Zelensky suggests Ukraine’s Western backers lack courage

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is shown earlier this month giving a speech about Kiev's conflict with Russia. © Getty Images / Ukrainian Presidency handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has scolded NATO members for declining to send him warplanes with which to help fight off Russia’s military, essentially saying his Western supporters lack sufficient courage.

Speaking by video address early on Sunday from Kiev, Zelensky chided his allies for a “ping-pong about who and how should hand over jets and other defensive weapons,” adding, “Ukraine can’t shoot down Russian missiles with shotguns, machine guns, of which there are too many in the supplies.” For instance, he said, to break the Russian siege of Mariupol, Ukraine needs tanks, other armored vehicles, and especially warplanes.

Zelensky made his comments after US President Joe Biden gave a scathing speech in Warsaw on Saturday night declaring that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine “will never be a victory” and Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.” However, when Ukrainian representatives had met with Biden and other US officials earlier that day, they weren’t offered any assurances that their nation would receive the weapons Zelensky has consistently demanded.

It is often claimed in Russia that the US is using Ukraine to try to weaken Moscow.

The Ukrainian commander-in-chief contrasted the “heroism” of Mariupol’s defenders with the reluctance of Western states to provide military aid that might trigger a direct conflict between NATO and Russia.

“Their determination, heroism, and firmness are astonishing,” Zelensky said of the Mariupol fighters. “If only those who have been thinking for 31 days about how to hand over dozens of jets and tanks had 1% of their courage.”

Zelensky has been campaigning for the US and other NATO members to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, to prevent Moscow from taking advantage of its superior air power. Putin has warned that any such move, which would require Western states to police the zone, would be viewed as participation in the military conflict, with all that implies.

Biden’s officials have rejected the idea and said that providing fighter jets to Ukraine would pose a “high risk” of escalating the war.

Beyond the implications of a direct NATO military confrontation with Russia, there are other challenges to providing Zelensky with the weapons he wants. UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace pointed out on Saturday that Ukraine’s military isn’t set up to use the most advanced Western weapons.

“One of the biggest challenges is that the more you go up in sophistication of weapons systems, the more training you require to use them, which is why the real focus of effort has to be on helping the Ukrainians either refurbish or locate Russian or Soviet equipment that is already in their inventory,” Wallace told the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper. “Just providing British tanks wouldn’t really work.”

However, Wallace said, British-made anti-aircraft equipment – shoulder-mounted Starstreak missiles that can shoot down low-flying warplanes – would be provided to Ukraine.

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