MAY 26, 2022
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed suggestions that his country should cede territory to Russia in return for peace, comparing them to attempts to appease Nazi Germany, as Russia stepped up its attacks in Ukraine’s east.
With the war in Ukraine now past the three-month mark, there is debate among Western officials about what it would take to achieve a cease-fire, and what concessions—including territorial ones—such an agreement might necessitate.
Poland, the U.S. and the U.K., among Ukraine’s staunchest allies, have advocated taking an uncompromising stance in the face of Russian aggression. Some European Union states have floated the idea of giving President Vladimir Putin an off-ramp that would make it easier for him to justify a de-escalation to his domestic audience in Russia, while a peace plan drawn up by Italy proposed autonomy for Ukraine’s Crimea and Donbas.
Mr. Zelensky forcefully rejected the notion, put forward Monday by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, that Ukraine should forfeit land to Moscow as part of negotiations on a peace deal.
Mr. Kissinger, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, had said that “ideally, the dividing line should return to the status quo ante,” suggesting that Ukraine should allow Russia to retain the Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed in 2014, and swaths of the eastern Donbas region seized by Moscow-backed separatists the same year.
Mr. Zelensky described Mr. Kissinger’s suggestions as on par with attempts to appease the Nazis in the run-up to World War II.
“I get the sense that instead of the year 2022, Mr. Kissinger has 1938 on his calendar,” he said in a video address Wednesday night. “And that he thought he was addressing an audience not in Davos, but in erstwhile Munich.”
In an expletive-filled tirade broadcast on his YouTube channel on Wednesday, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych called those who say Kyiv should relinquish land “crazy.”
“Get lost with suggestions of this sort, that Ukraine should trade some of its territory,” Mr. Arestovych said. “Children are dying here, soldiers are stopping shrapnel with their own bodies, and they’re telling us to sacrifice territory. It will never happen.”
The Kremlin said that Moscow expects Kyiv to accept its demands.
“These are not territorial concessions,” Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on Thursday. “Kyiv must acknowledge the de facto situation and simply give it a sober assessment.”
The exchanges come amid an intensified Russian assault in Ukraine, focusing on eastern parts of the country to which Moscow switched its focus after failing to capture Kyiv in the early stages of the war.
Kharkiv, which came under fierce Russian bombardment early in the war as Russia’s forces pushed to seize the city, was heavily shelled on Thursday. Seven people were killed and 17 injured in the attacks, said Oleh Synehubov, the head of the Kharkiv region’s military administration. It was the first attack of such a scale since Ukraine’s second most-populous city began reopening stores and re-establishing communal services after weeks on the frontline.
Mr. Synehubov urged Kharkiv residents to take precautions in case of further attacks.
The Russian army also shelled settlements in the Mykolayiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions, local authorities said. Three people died in Lysychansk, a city Russia has been seeking to capture as it vies for control of the Luhansk region, Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said. Mr. Haidai said attacks on nearby Severodonetsk have left dozens of homes damaged.
Russian forces have been trying to encircle Lysychansk and Severodonetsk as they move to capture the area around the Siverskyi Donets River, pushing back Ukrainian forces that still control the westernmost parts of Donbas, which is claimed by Moscow-backed separatists fighting alongside Russia in the war.
A Ukrainian officer in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk said that the Russians were trying to break into the cities, but without success.
“The enemy has not advanced a meter,” said the officer. “They are taking losses, but unfortunately our guys are, too.”
He said the cities are under constant fire from artillery, mortars, tanks and warplanes that are hitting civilian buildings, roads and bridges, resulting in civilian deaths. Citing the three he said were killed in Lysychansk overnight, he added: “They aren’t picking their targets.”
The fighting spirit of Ukrainian troops in the two cities remained strong, the officer said. Volunteers are helping to keep the troops supplied, he said, “but the main thing we need is fighters.”
Russia on Thursday said it had targeted two ammunition depots in eastern Ukraine and destroyed a signals-intelligence center in an attack that it said had killed 11 Ukrainian service members and 15 foreign specialists. Ukraine didn’t immediately comment on the claim.
Ukraine said Russia was also strengthening its defense lines around occupied parts of southern Ukraine, including in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, as it attempts to cement its control there.
In Mariupol, a city in southeastern Ukraine that fell to Russian forces after weeks of relentless bombardment, footage posted to social media showed Russian trucks parked in parts of the city center, fitted with large screens and broadcasting Russian TV news, which advances the Kremlin’s false narrative that Russia is defending Ukraine from fascists running the government in Kyiv.
The intensified assault in eastern Ukraine is coming at a high cost to Moscow, which has lost thousands of troops since it launched its invasion on Feb. 24, according to Ukrainian intelligence and Western officials.
In Russia, officials took additional steps to shore up the faltering economy. Russia’s central bank cut its key interest rate for a third time since early April, lowering it to 11% from 14%.
The Bank of Russia has now largely reversed a doubling of the key rate that took place after the invasion of Ukraine, a move intended to support a rapidly weakening ruble and limit a surge in inflation as imports became more expensive.
The currency and the country’s financial system have since stabilized, as Russia’s foreign-currency revenues from oil-and-gas exports have surged because of higher prices. But the outlook for the economy is gloomy, with Western sanctions limiting Russia’s ability to import needed goods.
Western businesses continue to leave Russia or scale back operations. Nike Inc. this week said it isn’t renewing its agreement with its Russian retail franchisee, which operates dozens of stores for the sportswear giant.
In March, the sneaker company had said it would temporarily close the stores it owned and operated in Russia, but some locations managed by its Russian franchisee, Up & Run, remained open.
Earlier this week, Starbucks Corp. said it would close down its businesses in Russia.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Germany’s chancellor said Russia won’t win the war.
Conquering the whole of Ukraine is now even less possible than at the start of the war, Olaf Scholz said in a speech at the gathering in Switzerland.
“Our goal is very clear: Putin must not win his war,” Mr. Scholz said. “And of this I am convinced: He will not win.”
Corrections & Amplifications Ukrainian forces still control territory in the westernmost parts of Donbas. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said these areas were in the easternmost parts of the region. (Corrected on May 26)