Crimea will become the conflict’s “center of gravity,” the Ukrainian leader told the Economist
President Vladimir Zelensky has blamed information “leaks” for the failure of Kiev’s much-touted counteroffensive, but nevertheless shared fresh insight on the Ukrainian military’s top priorities, saying in an interview with the Economist that isolating Crimea was “extremely important.”
Zelensky reiterated his ambitious goal of eventually restoring Ukraine to its 1991 borders, but stopped short of making any promises or setting timelines to avoid inflating expectations of the Ukrainian public and Kiev’s Western backers. The immediate task, he said, will be “to defend the east” and protect Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.
However, the Ukrainian leader hinted that Kiev may intensify its attacks against Crimea, seeking to “isolate” the peninsula by destroying the Kerch bridge connecting it to Russia’s mainland. For that purpose he once again demanded German-made long-range Taurus cruise missiles, which Berlin has so far refused to supply even after France and the UK had provided Kiev with Storm Shadow missiles.
“Russia has to know that for us this is a military object,” he claimed, suggesting that such an attack would be an “example to the world.”
According to President Vladimir Putin, Russian forces now hold the strategic initiative in the Ukraine conflict, while Kiev’s forces have been driven basically by political goals only, with their efforts aimed at showing “their true masters at least some results.”
Zelensky also complained that the “mobilization of Ukrainian society and of the world” was much lower now than at the beginning of the conflict, admitting that any military success will depend on the assistance from Western sponsors.
“Giving us money or giving us weapons, you support yourself. You save your children, not ours,” Zelensky argued.
Kiev announced a general mobilization in February 2022, barring most men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country, but the campaign has been marred by corruption and draft dodging. Following Ukraine’s disappointing summer counteroffensive, which according to Moscow cost Kiev nearly 160,000 troops, Zelensky recently announced a plan to raise 500,000 more soldiers to replace battlefield losses.
“Mobilization is not just a matter of soldiers going to the front. It is about all of us. It is the mobilization of all efforts,” he told the Economist. “Let’s be honest, we have switched to domestic politics… If we continue to focus on domestic politics, we need to call elections. Change the law, the constitution. But forget about counteroffensive actions and de-occupation.”