Updated May 23, 2022 - World

Watch Volodymyr Zelensky's full interview at Davos with Jonathan Swan

Video source: Ukraine House Davos.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Americans that oppose supporting Ukraine "to start reading some World War II memoirs," warning in an interview with Axios' Jonathan Swan that a victorious Russia will not stop at Ukraine's borders.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has spent billions of dollars arming Ukraine against Vladimir Putin's invasion, igniting a domestic debate over whether supporting a non-NATO country on Europe's periphery should be considered a critical national interest.

  • An anti-interventionist wing of the GOP, especially, is growing in size and influence — with 11 Senate Republicans voting against last week's $40 billion aid package for Ukraine.
  • Some lawmakers have also questioned whether the growing U.S. role in the war risks a direct confrontation with Russia, a nuclear power.

What they're saying: Interviewing Zelensky at Ukraine House Davos on Monday, Swan asked the Ukrainian president what he would say to Americans who believe this is "Europe's problem" and do not believe Ukraine's sovereignty is worth the potential risk and cost to the U.S.

  • The history of World War II shows "what would have happened" if the U.S did not come to Europe's defense, Zelensky responded.
  • "Ukraine is bordering with the Russian Federation, and we are the ones being attacked. If we fall, if we don't hold the line, Russia will proceed and attack the Baltic states" — forcing the U.S. to deploy troops to defend a NATO ally, Zelensky argued.
  • "So what can I say to the people who think that this is just for Europe, this is far away, this is not in our backyard? This is somewhere in the world, but the world is much smaller than we think."

The big picture: Zelensky acknowledged there's a risk in the modern world of social media that people will become numb to the suffering in Ukraine and stop paying attention.

  • "People want a new picture, a new image. The same people, the same victims, the same Ukraine," Zelensky said, wearing his signature dark military fatigues as he beamed into Davos.
  • "Our task is for the world not to get tired of war and supporting Ukraine because we are fighting for the values which make people's livelihoods and serves as the oxygen they breath."

Zoom in: Addressing how the war may end, Zelensky said it's becoming increasingly difficult to envision a peace agreement as more evidence of Russian atrocities emerges.

  • Zelensky said he did not want to rule out a meeting with Putin, given that the Russian president alone will be responsible for giving the order to end the war.
  • But he contended the best way to achieve that outcome is to continue arming Ukraine with heavy weaponry, which will allow Ukrainian forces to "fight from a distance" and maintain pressure "until the point when Russia understands that there's no other way out than restoring peace."

Between the lines: Zelensky was asked about a recent interview Ukraine's military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov gave to the Wall Street Journal, in which he said Ukraine would continue fighting until Russian forces were evicted from Crimea and areas of the eastern Donbas region occupied since 2014.

  • Zelensky dodged the question several times — saying with a grin, "I like Gen. Budanov" — before acknowledging that taking back that territory would likely result in hundreds of thousands of military casualties on both sides.
  • Praising Budanov's "courage" and "confidence," Zelensky concluded his answer: "The price matters. Everything has its price."

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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