Zelenskyy says land return is necessary for peace

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated on Wednesday that the return of Russia-controlled Ukrainian territory – Crimea illegally annexed in 2014 and the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions disputed since the same year – is a precondition for peace talks.

Zelenskyi spoke hours after Henry Kissinger, a former US Secretary of State, suggested that surrendering some of the country was necessary to end the war that has been raging since the Russians began their invasion on February 24.

Kissinger called on Ukraine to give up its occupied territory and on the West not to seek a crushing defeat by Russia to allow for an end to the conflict. Kissinger said during a video appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that an intransigent stance in peace talks with Russia could jeopardize European stability along the way.

“Negotiations must begin in the next two months before upheaval and tensions arise that will not be easily overcome,” said Kissinger, who turns 99 on Friday. “To continue the war beyond this point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but about a new war against Russia itself.”

Ukrainians overwhelmingly support Zelenskyy’s position, according to a recent poll that showed 82% refused to give up land to end the war. Another poll designed to gauge Americans’ views on the war found continued support for aid to Ukraine, but not at the expense of the US economy as inflation becomes a bigger concern.

Latest developments:

►Denys Prokopenko, the top Ukrainian military commander who was fighting at the steel plant in the southern port city of Mariupol until last week, lives in a Russian-controlled area, his wife said Tuesday after a brief phone call.

►The US on Wednesday will block Russia’s final avenue to pay off its billions in debt to international investors, making Russia’s first default in more than a century all but inevitable. The Treasury Department said it does not intend to renew Russia’s license to continue paying its debtors through American banks.

►The decomposing bodies of 200 people were found in the basement of a bombed-out apartment building in devastated Mariupol, authorities said on Tuesday. Mayor’s adviser Petro Andryushchenk said local residents rejected Russian demands to collect the bodies of the dead and that Russia’s Emergencies Ministry left the bodies in the rubble.

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The United States has pledged $4 million in support to the HALO Trust group, a humanitarian landmine clearance charity, to help clear unexploded Russian landmines and bombs in Ukraine, the US Embassy in Ukraine wrote on Wednesday on Twitter and shared a post from the US Department of State.

The funds will support deployment of 10 teams to remove the explosives so “families can safely return home to their communities,” the tweet said.

But Ukrainian officials say they still need additional help from the US, mostly in the form of arms.

Ukraine’s foreign minister says the urgency of his country’s weapons needs can be summed up in two acronyms: MLRS – multi-launch missile systems and ASAP – as soon as possible.

“The answer I get is, ‘Have the Americans given it to you yet?'” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, referring to the US leadership, while speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. “So that’s the burden of being a leader. everyone looks at you So Washington needs to keep the promise and provide us with multiple launch vehicle systems as soon as possible. Others will follow.”

-Ella Lee, Associated Press

Pope Francis has sent a greeting to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, emphasizing the value of human life and wisdom as the Vatican grapples with troubled relations amid war in Ukraine. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is a strong supporter of the Russian invasion, while Francis has asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to end hostilities.

“In these days I pray to our Heavenly Father that the Holy Spirit would renew and strengthen us in the gospel ministry, especially in our efforts to protect the worth and dignity of every human life,” Francis wrote to Kirill.

Francis’ efforts to maintain positive relations with Kirill drew criticism from within the Roman Catholic Church this week. Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, returning from a visit to Ukraine, urged the Vatican to change its “naïve and utopian” policy, saying it won’t work in the long run.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree simplifying the process of obtaining Russian citizenship for residents of the occupied Ukrainian cities of Zaporozhye and Kherson. The decree mirrors the process adopted three years ago for Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Cherson is a city with more than 280,000 inhabitants in southern Ukraine.

“We will integrate (Kherson) into Russia as much as possible,” said Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-appointed official in the region. “All residents of Kherson Oblast have the right to obtain Russian citizenship and Russian passports.”

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry claims the Russians are preparing mock referendums to “legalize” occupation administrations in the temporarily occupied territories.

As Russia focuses on making gains in the eastern Donbass region to salvage the struggling war effort, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is asking for more help – namely more weapons to repel the attack on four cities.

“The situation in Donbass is very difficult now,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Tuesday. “Virtually the full power of the Russian army, whatever it has left, is thrown on the offensive there. Liman, Popasna, Sievierodonetsk, Slaviansk – the occupiers want to destroy everything there.”

He praised the Ukrainian army’s efforts against a much larger enemy, but said more arms shipments from the West were needed to overcome the Russian advantage. Equipment needed, he said, includes multiple rocket launchers and tanks.

On Saturday, US President Joe Biden signed a $40 billion aid package that included more than $20 billion for the Pentagon to supply Ukraine with weapons, intelligence and training.

Contribution: The Associated Press

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