Jan 16, 2024 - World

Zelensky tells Davos that "predator" Putin will not accept a frozen conflict

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 16.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 16. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned those at Davos on Tuesday that Russia's military ambitions extend beyond Moscow's brutal invasion of Ukraine, opening his speech by recounting conflicts around the world in which Russia has been involved.

Why it matters: Amid growing pressure to make concessions to bring the war to a close, Zelensky in part used the speech to assert that a semblance of peace in Ukraine would not last and would not bring an end to Russian aggression around the world.

Catch up quickly: His speech comes as he is promoting a peace process that's gained traction with dozens of countries — but it has already been rejected by Moscow, the New York Times reports.

  • It calls for a full Russian withdrawal from all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, reparations and the prosecution of war crimes.
  • Those terms are likely unacceptable for Russian Vladimir President Putin, who has repeatedly said that he will not negotiate for peace until Russian forces achieve their military objectives un Ukraine, listing "denazification, demilitarization and neutral status" as goals.
  • Russia has instead offered to open ceasefire talks, though Ukrainian officials say Moscow is only attempting to pause to regroup and attack again, according to the Times.

Of note: Zelensky noted that before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia had illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.

  • He argued that the annexation was not met with sufficient repercussions, like overwhelming economic sanctions, adding that the lack of robust action only emboldened Russia to launch even more ambitious military operations.
  • "Retaliation at the moment could have taught Russia a lot and would have added necessary confidence to the West," he said.

What they're saying: In addition to Crimea, Zelensky said Russia has been interfering "in African countries, from Sudan to Mali" and has continued to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the Syrian civil war.

  • "If anyone thinks, 'this is only about us, this is only about Ukraine,' they are fundamentally mistaken," he said, adding that Putin "embodies war."
  • "We all know he's the sole reason why various wars and conflicts persist and why all attempts to restore peace have failed, and he will not change," Zelensky said. "He will not change. We must change."

The big picture: He said Putin would pursue the invasion of Ukraine even if fighting is formally halted on the massive front, pointing to attempts to freeze fighting in Ukraine's Donbass region after the 2014 Crimea crisis.

  • "Putin is a predator who is not satisfied with frozen products," he said.
  • He called on countries that have frozen Russian assets to redirect those finances to Ukraine to support its defense.
  • "Putin must regret. We need him to lose. We need to finally dispel that global unity is weaker than one man's hatred."

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