Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said enduring 90 days of an energy standoff with Russia over this winter would prove more “crucial” than anything the European Union has faced in its entire history.
Still, he predicted the West would prevail and called upon the EU to begin its membership talks with Kyiv in the spring.
“There are 90 days ahead, which will be more crucial than 30 years of Ukraine’s independence; 90 days that will be more crucial than all the years of the existence of the European Union. Winter will determine our future and the risks,” he said in a speech delivered at the Yalta European Strategy meeting late on Saturday.
Zelenskyy predicted Russia would sever gas supplies entirely, but he told Europeans not to fall for the Russian “illusion” that they could make a trade-off by compromising on their values to secure cheaper energy.
Referring to Ukraine’s unexpectedly rapid advances around Kharkiv, he vowed to fight on to victory and not to strike a compromise deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, though he accused some unidentified fellow world leaders of telling him to do exactly that.
“We cannot afford to stop. This is my main message to anyone out there who is thinking about something,” he said. “Even to some of the leaders that are pushing us somewhere, into someone’s inappropriate embrace. No, we cannot afford to stop.”
Casting the showdown with Putin as the defining conflict to protect “freedom and fundamental values for any person in the world,” Zelenskyy said the West needed to continue to supply weapons, arms and finances to Ukraine. He made a special appeal for air defense systems, predicting a Russian missile onslaught against key industrial and energy plants this winter.
He also called for seizures of Russian assets abroad, the expulsion of Russian propagandists from democratic countries and for a “maximum” visa ban on Russian visitors, who could disseminate propaganda.
Having survived the winter, however, Zelenskyy gave every sign that he was going to prove a big headache for several leading Western European countries, who are scoffing of Ukraine’s right to a place at the EU table.
For Zelenskyy, the moral argument was incontrovertible.
“Completing the unification of Europe is impossible without Ukraine,” he said.