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War in Ukraine

Russia-Ukraine war not a 'stalemate,' Zelenskyy tells NBC News in exclusive interview

The world's attention is on Israel and Gaza, and some U.S. and Ukrainian military officials consider the war to be at an impasse — an assessment President Volodymyr Zelenskyy disputed on "Meet the Press."
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected claims that the war with Russia has reached a stalemate in an exclusive interview with NBC News’ "Meet the Press" on Sunday, as his military’s struggling counteroffensive and the war in the Middle East threaten to sap Western support.

"They thought they would checkmate us, but this didn’t happen," Zelenskyy said, rebuffing recent suggestions from U.S. military officials, other allies and even the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s own armed forces that the war had entered an impasse after 20 months of fierce fighting. 

"I don’t think that this is a stalemate," Zelenskyy said. 

He reiterated pleas for the U.S. to supply more weapons; however, the country’s willingness to do so appears to be waning amid rising opposition in Congress and a diversion of attention to the war between Israel and Hamas.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the U.S. has provided $75 billion in military, humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine.

Zelenskyy’s remarks contrasted sharply with those made by Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, who told The Economist last week that "there will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough," despite the counteroffensive launched in June. 

The slow progress has led to growing criticism from some of Kyiv’s closest partners about the way it is managing the war and has fueled doubts about Ukraine’s ability to win.

Such stances, and the fallout from Zaluzhnyi’s comments, may have influenced Zelenskyy’s decision last week to dismiss the commander of Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces and replace him with a colonel who the president has said "can bring greater power" to the unit. 

Zelenskyy said Ukraine is considering shifts in its strategy.

"Our military are coming up with different plans, with different operations in order to move forward faster and to strike Russian Federation unexpectedly," he said in his "Meet the Press" appearance.

"Meet the Press" airs Sundays from 9-10 a.m. ET on the NBC-TV network; 10:30-11:30 a.m. ET in New York and Washington. The program re-airs at 2 p.m. ET Sundays and 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. ET Mondays on MSNBC.

Zelenskyy accused Russia of sponsoring Hamas

Zelenskyy acknowledged that Ukraine’s progress in the war has been slow, and that "there is a fatigue" as the conflict stretches on. But he insisted that his military is "still more motivated than any Russians who came to Ukraine to kill us."

Recognizing that the Israel-Hamas war means the U.S. is being asked to provide funding and resources in two conflicts, Zelenskyy sought to align his country’s fight against Russia with Israel’s battle against the militant group.

He accused Russia of playing a role in both wars by sponsoring Hamas, adding that the "whole world should do all they can to stop this war" in the Middle East.

The Kremlin and Hamas officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Zelenskyy’s statements.

Pressed on the issue in an interview with NBC News last week, Ghazi Hamad, a senior member of Hamas’s political bureau, denied any links with Moscow. However, he noted that Hamas leaders have talked with representatives from Russia, China and "different countries."

"They came to Hamas and met them either in Doha or different locations," Hamad said. "We ask them first of all to impose more pressure on Israel now to stop the aggression on people, to allow for humanitarian assistance to enter Gaza. And I think they understand our political position, they believe that occupation should end and a Palestinian state should be established."

President Joe Biden has similarly attempted to draw connections between the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. After Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on Oct. 7, Biden gave an Oval Office speech explaining why it was "vital" to America’s national security that both Ukraine and Israel have the support they need.

"History has taught us that when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror — when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression — they cause more chaos and death and more destruction," Biden said in the address last month. "They keep going, and the costs of the threats to America and the world keep rising."

On "Meet the Press," Zelenskyy said he is "ready to go to Israel today," although repeated attempts by the Ukrainian leader to visit the country have stalled.

"It is difficult to say because I’m a president of a country at war, and you know that on our battlefield it’s very hot," he said, adding that any possible visit would depend on "what’s happening on the battlefield" in Ukraine and whether it’s possible to get Ukrainian citizens "stranded" in Israel back home. (Commercial flights are not currently departing the country.)

Pleas for more weapons as U.S. support for Ukraine aid wanes

In recent weeks, the fighting between Russia and Ukraine has been focused in and around the city of Avdiivka, a highly sought-after prize that would increase Russian control of the eastern Donbas region. But since Russia began its attacks in the area, its offensive has stalled: Hundreds of men and scores of armored vehicles have been lost, according to a recent report by the Institute for the Study of War.    

At the same time, Ukraine has made little progress against entrenched Russian positions on the battlefield, so some U.S. and European leaders are losing hope that its military will soon make significant advances — including reaching the coast near Russia’s frontlines. 

Nonetheless, Zelenskyy reiterated his calls for more air defense systems from the U.S., noting that Ukraine particularly needs drones that can attack and gather intelligence. Ukraine has started producing some drones, he said, but needs more. Without such help, Ukrainians would find it difficult to "step forward," Zelenskyy said.

"We need to save our country. That’s why one of the ways is to co-produce air defense," Zelenskyy said. "But during this time, during our co-production, our message to the world, to the United States, to Europe, to Asia: to give us some air defense systems, just to use them, just to rent them, rent for this period, especially winter. Winter [is a] very challenging period."

The Biden administration has already asked Congress for billions more in funding for Ukraine, but it is facing opposition due to a steep decline in House Republicans’ willingness to continue providing such aid. 

U.S. public support for the war in Ukraine is also dropping. A Gallup poll in October showed that 41% of people in the U.S. believe it is doing too much to help Kyiv, a significant increase from June, when it was 29%, and from August 2022, when the figure was only 24%.

In the poll, 58% of Americans said the U.S. is doing either the right amount or too little for Ukraine, down from 69% who said so in June.

There is unease among many U.S. government leaders that the conflict is garnering less attention due to the Israel-Hamas war, according to one current and one former senior U.S. official who are familiar with discussions among the U.S., European and Ukrainian governments about possible peace negotiations to end the war. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the discussions.

Those conversations have included very broad outlines of what Ukraine might need to give up to reach a deal, the officials said. Some of the delicate talks, the officials added, took place last month during a meeting of representatives from more than 50 nations supporting Ukraine, known as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

Zelenskyy asserted that it is important his country’s allies continue providing support because Kyiv is defending “joint values” such as democracy.

The alternative, he said, is far too dangerous: "If Russia will kill all of us, they will attack NATO countries, and you will send your sons and daughters. And it will be — I’m sorry, but the price will be higher."

"It’s very important not to lose the will, not to lose this strong position, and not to lose your democracy," Zelenskyy said, adding: "We wanted your support, like we say, yesterday."