Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated Wednesday that the return of Ukrainian territory controlled by Russia – Crimea, illegally annexed in 2014, and the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk areas, under dispute since that same year – is a precondition for peace negotiations.
Zelenskyy spoke hours after Henry Kissinger, a former U.S. secretary of state, suggested capitulation of some land would be needed to end the war that has raged since the Russians launched their invasion Feb. 24.
Kissinger urged Ukraine to concede its occupied territory, telling the West not to pursue a crushing defeat of Russia to facilitate an end to the conflict. Kissinger said during a video appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that taking an unyielding stance in peace talks with Russia could jeopardize European stability down the road.
“Negotiations need to begin in the next two months before it creates upheavals and tensions that will not be easily overcome,” said Kissinger, who turns 99 on Friday. “Pursuing the war beyond that point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but a new war against Russia itself.”
Ukrainians support Zelenskyy’s position overwhelmingly, according to a recent poll that shows 82% refuse to concede any land to end the war. Another survey, seeking to assess Americans’ opinions about the war, revealed continued support for helping Ukraine but not at the expense of the U.S. economy as inflation becomes a bigger worry.
►Denys Prokopenko, the top Ukraine military commander who fought at the steel mill until last week in the southern port city of Mariupol, is alive in Russian-controlled territory, his wife said Tuesday after they had a brief phone conversation.
►The U.S. will close the last avenue for Russia to pay its billions in debt to international investors on Wednesday, making Russia’s first default on its debts in more than a century all but inevitable. The Treasury Department said it does not intend to renew the license for Russia to keep paying its debtholders through American banks.
►The decomposing bodies of 200 people were found in the basement of a bombed-out apartment building in battered Mariupol, authorities said Tuesday. Mayoral adviser Petro Andryushchenk said local residents had refused Russian demands to collect the bodies of the dead, so Russia’s Ministry of Emergencies left the bodies amid the rubble.
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Pope extends olive branch to Russian Orthodox leader
Pope Francis has sent a greeting to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, stressing the value of human life and wisdom, as the Vatican struggles with rocky relations amid the war in Ukraine. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is a strong supporter of the Russian invasion while Francis has pleaded for Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the hostilities.
“These days I pray to our Heavenly Father that the Holy Spirit will renew and strengthen us in the gospel ministry, especially in our efforts to protect the value and dignity of every human life,” Francis wrote to Kirill.
Effort by Francis to maintain positive relations with Kirill drew criticism from within the Roman Catholic church this week. Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki returned from a visit to Ukraine and called for the Vatican to change its “naïve and utopian” policy, saying it won’t work in the long run.
Putin fast-tracks Russian citizenship for residents of occupied Ukraine cities
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree simplifying the process for obtaining Russian citizenship for residents of the occupied Ukraine cities of Zaporozhye and Kherson. The decree mirrors the process adopted three years ago for Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Kherson is a city of more than 280,000 people in southern Ukraine.
“We will integrate (Kherson) as much as possible into Russia,” said Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-appointed official in the region. “All residents of Kherson Oblast will have the right to obtain Russian citizenship, Russian passports.”
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry claims the Russians are preparing sham referendums to “legalize” the occupation administrations in the temporarily occupied areas.
Zelenskyy: Send more weapons to fend off Russian offensive in Donbas
As Russia focuses on making gains in the eastern Donbas region in an effort to salvage a troubled war effort, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is asking for more help – namely, more weapons to fight off the assault on four cities.
“The situation in the Donbas now is very difficult,” Zelenskyy said Tuesday in his nightly video address. “Practically the full might of the Russian army, whatever they have left, is being thrown at the offensive there. Liman, Popasna, Sievierodonetsk, Slaviansk – the occupiers want to destroy everything there.”
He lauded the efforts of the Ukrainian army against a much larger enemy, but said continued supplies of arms from the West would be required to overcome the Russian advantage. Among the equipment needed, he said, are multiple-rocket launchers and tanks.
On Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a $40 billion aid package that included more than $20 billion for the Pentagon to provide weapons, intelligence and training to Ukraine.
Contributing: The Associated Press