Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky is pushing for more security assistance from the U.S. and western allies as his troops face an immense assault from Russian forces in the embattled town of Bakhmut.
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that aired Wednesday night, Zelensky renewed a plea for the Biden administration to supply F-16 fighter jets as Ukraine struggles to fend off repeated Russian missile strikes on critical infrastructure.
The Ukrainian president said President Biden previously told him that Ukraine does not need advanced fighter jets in the current state of the war, a position Zelensky said he disagrees with.
“What fighter jets could do is they could help us to defend ourselves,” Zelensky argued. “It’s a part of the air defense … and we don’t have the fighter jets to deal with it and to counteract the Russian hits. We really need this.”
Zelensky also told Blitzer that Ukraine will need additional “new weaponry” from western allies in order to carry out a counteroffensive against Russian forces in occupied regions of eastern Ukraine.
That includes long-range artillery, which the U.S. has yet to provide over fears Ukraine might strike into Russian territory. Zelensky told CNN that Ukraine is not interested in Russian land.
“We need only to protect our peaceful civilian population,” he said. “I believe we can push Russia even further with these long-range missiles.”
Zelensky said Ukraine can win the war given time and enough assistance from allies. He said Kyiv does not want to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin while Russian troops are in Ukraine, saying Putin doesn’t “hold his word” and Ukraine lacks “any confidence in him.”
The latest phase of the war has centered around the town of Bakhmut. Russian troops, led by the mercenary company Wagner Group, have likely captured the eastern part of the city after throwing waves of soldiers at Ukrainian lines for months.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned on Wednesday that Russia could seize the city within a matter of days.
“What we see is that Russia is storming in more troops, more forces and what Russia lacks in quality, they try to make up in quantity,” Stoltenberg said ahead of a meeting with the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union.
Several war analysts have said it could end up costing Kyiv to continue to hold Bakhmut, but Zelensky has vowed to hold onto the town and decided to reinforce defenses after a meeting with his top commanders on Monday.
“This is tactical for us,” Zelensky told CNN. “We understand that after Bakhmut they could go further” into the Donetsk region.
Zelensky also said Ukrainian leadership is united behind Bakhmut and he wants to deny Russia a symbolic victory after Moscow has suffered a year of setbacks in the war effort.
“Russia needs at least some victory, a small victory, even by ruining everything in Bakhmut,” he said. “They need to put that little flag on top of there … to mobilize their society and create this idea they are such a powerful army.”
Ukraine will need more assistance to ward off future Russian advances and liberate more territory.
Congress approved roughly $113 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine last year, but remaining funds are expected to run out at some point this year.
House Republicans who took control of the lower chamber this year are being closely watched to see whether they will approve another large aid package for Ukraine.
In his interview with Blitzer, Zelensky expressed his appreciation for the bipartisan support for his country so far. He also invited Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to come to Ukraine.
“I’m not trying to influence his position, he’s a free person, he can have any position he chooses,” Zelensky said. But “it’s very important when someone comes here and sees in his own eyes the consequences of war.”
McCarthy told CNN he does not need to visit Ukraine when he considers passing the next aid package.
“I will continue to get my briefings and others, but I don’t have to go to Ukraine or Kyiv to see it,” McCarthy said. “And my point has always been, I won’t provide a blank check for anything.”
In the CNN interview, Zelensky also touched on President Biden’s visit to Ukraine last month, when the U.S. leader made a surprise appearance in Kyiv just days before the Feb. 24 one-year anniversary of the war.
“We showed … we’re not afraid of Russia,” Zelensky said, adding the “visit as a whole was very symbolic and a very motivating one.”