Ukrainian president says counteroffensive does not aim to attack Russian territory
BERLIN (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday that his country is preparing a counteroffensive designed to liberate areas occupied by Russia, not to attack Russian territory.
Speaking during a news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s goal is to free the territories within its internationally recognised borders.
The Washington Post cited previously undisclosed documents from a trove of US intelligence leaks suggesting that Zelenskyy has considered trying to capture areas in Russia proper for possible use as bargaining chips in peace negotiations to end the war launched by Moscow in February 2022. This would put him at odds with Western governments who have insisted that weapons they provide must not be used to attack targets in Russia.
Asked about the report, Zelenskyy said: “We don’t attack Russian territory, we liberate our own legitimate territory.”
“We have neither the time nor the strength (to attack Russia),” he said, according to an official interpreter. “And we also don’t have weapons to spare, with which we could do this.”
“We are preparing a counterattack for the illegally occupied areas based on our constitutionally defined legitimate borders, which are recognised internationally,” Zelenskyy said.
The Ukrainian president is visiting allies in search of further arms to help his country fend off the Russian invasion, and funds to rebuild what’s been destroyed by more than a year of devastating conflict.
A Luftwaffe jet flew Zelenskyy to the German capital from Rome, where he had met Saturday with Pope Francis and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni.
It was his first visit to Berlin since the start of the war and came a day after the German government announced a new package of military aid for Ukraine worth more than 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.
Zelenskyy thanked Scholz for Germany’s political, financial and military support, saying the country is now second only behind the United States in providing aid to Ukraine — and joked that he is working to make it the biggest donor.
“German air defense systems, artillery, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles are saving Ukrainian lives and bringing us closer to victory. Germany is a reliable ally! Together we are bringing peace closer!” he wrote on Twitter after the meeting.
Scholz said Berlin has so far given Kyiv some 17 billion euros in bilateral aid and that it can expect more in future.
“We will support you for as long as necessary,” he said, adding that it is up to Russia to end the war by withdrawing its troops.
After initially hesitating to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons, Germany has become one of the biggest suppliers of arms to Ukraine, including Leopard one and two battle tanks, and the sophisticated IRIS-T SLM air-defense system. Modern Western hardware is considered crucial if Ukraine is to succeed in its planned counteroffensive against Russian troops.
Zelenskyy said one reason for his latest visit to allied capitals was to forge a “fighter jet coalition” that would provide Ukraine with the combat planes it needs to counter Russia’s air dominance.
Germany has said in the past that it doesn’t have the F-16 jets Ukraine needs and Scholz responded to questions about possible plane deliveries by referring to the anti-aircraft system it has provided to Kyiv.
“That’s what we as Germany are now concentrating on,” he said.
In Ukraine, officials on Sunday denied that the country had anything to do with the downing of two Russian helicopters close to the border the day before.
In a joint statement after their meeting, Scholz and Zelenskyy said they support efforts to bring those responsible for atrocities in Ukraine to justice and noted the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
They also pledged to ensure sanctions against Russia aren’t circumvented and to explore possibilities for using frozen Russian assets to pay for damage caused in Ukraine.
Germany said it supports Kyiv’s efforts to join the European Union and backed a 2008 vow by NATO members to pave the way for Ukraine to eventually join the military alliance.
Zelenskyy first met with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s head of state, who was snubbed by Kyiv last year, apparently over his previous close ties to Russia, causing a chill in diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Germany. Since then, both Steinmeier and Chancellor Olaf Scholz have visited Ukraine.
After meeting Scholz and other senior officials at the chancellery, the two leaders flew to the western city of Aachen for Zelenskyy to receive the International Charlemagne Prize, awarded to him and the people of Ukraine.
Organisers say the award recognises that their resistance against Russia’s invasion is a defense “not just of the sovereignty of their country and the life of its citizens, but also of Europe and European values.”