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“Putin never going to use nuclear weapons,” Boris Johnson dismisses escalation fears and tells Ukraine’s allies to send tanks

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Ukraine’s allies gave a very clear and decisive message at the Ukrainian Breakfast panel discussion in Davos on January 19: Ukraine will beat Russia eventually, so let’s make it happen sooner rather than later. Joining via a live video feed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy kicked off the discussion hosted by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation and the international investment advisory group EastOne. He thanked the attendees for their support and said Ukraine is eagerly awaiting the new systems pledged by its allies earlier this month. However, he noted that more needed to be done, referencing Ukraine’s deficit of shells and lack of specific weaponry that ultimately affects the “strength and resilience” of Ukrainians. “We cannot just do it with motivation and morale,” he said.

Zelenskiy has repeatedly emphasised the need for tanks in order to defeat Russian troops on the battlefield. All eyes are on Germany as Berlin hesitates to send its Leopard 2 main battle tanks, with German chancellor Olaf Scholz saying earlier this week that the country will allow German-tanks to be sent to Ukraine if the US agrees to send its own tanks.

Indirectly referencing Scholz’s comment, Zelenskiy said this is not the right strategy and told allies not to “hesitate” when it comes to providing military support, particularly tanks. “We need all the strength there is,” he emphasised. “This is not like the beginning of Covid 19 where everyone was looking for a vaccine; the vaccine against Russian tyranny is available,” the President stressed. In addition to tanks, he said Ukraine needs air defence to protect its cities, as well as shells and long-range missiles. Zelenskiy was careful to add that the missiles would be used to hit military targets within Ukraine’s occupied territories rather than to target Russian territory, likely in an attempt to ease concerns over escalation.

“There is military infrastructure we cannot reach with our systems, it’s only fair. We are protecting our ordinary citizens in Kherson. They cannot do anything. We need those weapons and our partners have them,” he said. 

He noted that air defence is a serious weakness for Ukraine and the country recently suffered the tenth attack on its energy infrastructure on December 14, resulting in the death of 45 civilians after a missile hit a residential building in Dnipro. Zelenskiy added it is important people are able to live in cities in order to keep the economy running and people in jobs. When asked whether Ukraine is planning a military operation in Crimea, Zelenskiy said that it is Ukraine’s intention to liberate all of its territories, emphasising that Crimea belongs to Ukraine. “Give us your weapons and we will bring our land back,” he stated. He once again made it clear that it was Russia who had started the war and had the opportunity to withdraw from the occupied territories. Zelenskiy reminded the forum that he had attempted negotiations with Russia for three years during his presidency and had proposed several options. However, nothing came to fruition.

When it comes to the topic of peace talks, Zelenskiy is sceptical about discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin and even banned negotiations with the Russian leader in October, although this was lifted the following month. Nevertheless, he suggested Russia find a different person to approach the negotiation table before proposing anything and questioned whether Putin is even alive.

“I don’t quite understand who to talk to and about what. I’m not sure that Russia’s president, who sometimes appears against the chroma key, is really him,” he said. Zelenskiy’s call for European countries to provide more weaponry at a faster rate was well received by the other panellists and attendees; most noticeably former-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is seen as one of Kyiv’s greatest allies. He dismissed fears that sending tanks and advanced artillery would lead to escalation and potential nuclear warfare. “Putin wants to present it as a nuclear standoff between Nato and Russia. Nonsense. He is not going to use nuclear weapons,” Johnson assured the attendees. “He’s like the fat boy in Dickens, he wants to make our flesh creep. He wants us to think about it (…) He’s never going to do it.” Johnson reasoned that the threat of economic paralysis in response to a nuclear attack, as well as the loss of support from its allies, particularly India and China, is enough to deter Putin from using nukes. Instead, Johnson believes that the West is overly concerned about what Putin thinks, telling the forum that Ukraine’s allies should “stop worrying about Kremlinology”. “It’s not our job to be his political advisors. It’s not our job to worry about his career or who comes next,” he added. The ex-prime minister stressed that allies need to focus on “giving Volodymyr Zelenskiy the tools he needs to finish the job”, including tanks, in order to help Ukraine win as quickly as possible. Addressing the concerns of the rising cost of Ukrainian support, Johnson said that it will be more expensive the longer the war drags on, stating that now is the time to “double down”. Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, warned that the whole of Europe would be under threat unless Russia is defeated, referencing the lessons learned from the Second World War. “We know what happens when an aggressor goes about his business without being stopped. We have seen it, it will not stop there,” he stated.

However, there are worries about growing Ukraine fatigue and that support for the war effort will die out as countries tackle internal problems caused by Russia’s full-scale invasion. Nevertheless, US senator Chris Coons said that Washington will continue its prodigious support for Kyiv, referencing the $45bn appropriated at the end of last year and mentioning another package of several million dollars currently being prepared.

He stated that it is important for the US to stand in support of freedom, particularly after misappropriating hundreds of billions of dollars in past wars. However, he said Ukraine needs to be able to demonstrate that the investment and weapons that allies are providing are being “well deployed”, adding he is confident that they are and expressed the urgent provision of weapons and material.

“The risk of escalation and concern about Putin should not be our principal concern. Our principal concern should be changing his red lines, not fearing his red lines,” he added.


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