• Associated Press

Zelenskyy Says He’s Confident Ukraine will Get More U.S. Support for Its War with Russia

AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during his end-of-the-year news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023.

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday he’s certain the United States will make good on its promise to provide billions of dollars in further aid for Kyiv to continue its fight against Russia, and he bluntly replied “No,” to a question about whether his country might lose the war.

Speaking at an end-of-year news conference in Kyiv, Zelenskyy also dismissed suggestions that Moscow’s forces have come out of 2023 on top after mostly beating back Ukraine’s counteroffensive and stepping up its military production.

“Russia failed to achieve any of its goals” this year, he said, although he conceded Ukraine still faces “lots of challenges” after expending Western military hardware in the counteroffensive that failed to make an impression on the 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line.

The U.S. Congress has left town for the holidays without a deal to send some $61 billion to Ukraine, and the U.S. Defense Department says it is almost out of money to help Kyiv after almost 22 months of fighting. The European Union, too, had to push into the new year a plan to supply Ukraine with $54.5 billion after a veto from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban,

But Zelenskyy insisted he isn’t worried.

“I am confident that the U.S. will not let us down and that what we have agreed with the U.S. will be fulfilled,” Zelenskyy said.

Western support is crucial for Ukraine’s fight against its bigger and better armed neighbor, and the U.S. is by far the biggest single source of help. Russia still outguns and outnumbers Kyiv’s forces.

Ukraine has received additional U.S.-made Patriot surface-to-air systems and advanced NASAMS anti-aircraft systems, providing medium- to long-range defense against Russian missile attacks, Zelenskyy said, declining to elaborate.

Those weapons will help fend off expected Russian attacks on Ukraine’s power grid over the winter.

While Zelenskyy was upbeat about receiving further military and financial help from European Union countries, he was less optimistic about Ukraine’s chances of joining NATO.

“NATO is the most powerful option for us. But we’re not invited to NATO yet,” he said. “All these signals about our membership so far are nonsense. We didn’t receive a solid offer, not from a single partner of ours. It is hard to imagine at this point, how this can happen.”

Ukraine’s military wants to mobilize up to 500,000 more troops, Zelenskyy said, but he said he has asked the top brass to spell out the details on what is “a very sensitive matter” before deciding whether to grant their wish.

Such a major mobilization would cost Ukraine the equivalent of $13.4 billion, Zelenskyy said. Other aspects to be considered include whether troops currently on the front would be rotated or allowed home leave.

Ukrainian Defense Ministry statistics say the Ukrainian military had nearly 800,000 troops in October. That doesn’t include National Guard or other units. In total, 1 million Ukrainians are in uniform.

Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military to increase the number of troops by nearly 170,000 to a total of 1.32 million.

The front line has barely budged this year as a Ukrainian counteroffensive ran up against sturdy Russian defenses. Now, with winter setting in, troop movements are being slowed by bad weather, placing greater emphasis on artillery, missiles and drones.

Putin said earlier Tuesday that the Kremlin’s forces have taken the initiative in Ukraine and are well positioned for the coming year.

“We are effectively doing what we think is needed, doing what we want,” Putin told the Russian military brass. “Where our commanders consider it necessary to stick to active defenses they are doing so, and we are improving our positions where it’s needed.”

But Zelenskyy insisted Moscow had failed in its efforts to occupy more of Ukraine since the full-scale invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022.

It wasn’t possible to independently verify battlefield claims by either side.

In other developments Tuesday:

— The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said his agency has confirmed more than 10,000 civilian deaths in Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion started. The number includes more than 560 children, he said.

“The true toll is probably substantially higher,” he said.

Türk also said his office is investigating six new reported cases of Russian soldiers allegedly killing civilians in Ukraine.

Since the start of the war, the Russian military has repeatedly used missiles to blast civilian targets, with devastating consequences.

— The toll the war is taking on Ukraine’s economy was clear in figures published Tuesday that showed the volume of goods exports through November was 19.3% lower than in the same period last year.

The drop was due largely to Russia’s “blockade of seaports and Russian attacks on our export transport logistics,” Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko tweeted.

However, a recent uptick in sea exports came after Ukraine created a temporary grain corridor in the Black Sea and introduced a ship insurance mechanism, she said, adding that the growth bodes well for next year.

— Russian shelling late Tuesday wounded a woman and three children in Ukraine’s southern city of Kherson, regional Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin said in a Telegram update. Two other civilians also were wounded in the Sumy region of northern Ukraine, which borders Russia, according to the local military administration.