Zelensky Urges Even Harder Line on Russia as Allies Work to Remain United

DAVOS, Switzerland — Hoping to shore up international resolve, Ukraine’s president told global political and business leaders Monday that as far as they have gone to punish Moscow for invading Ukraine, it was not far enough.

“This is really the moment when it is decided whether brute force will rule the world,” declared President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Ukrainian leader was speaking by video link to the World Economic Forum in Davos on a day when a Russian diplomat resigned with a blistering statement denouncing President Vladimir V. Putin, and when a Russian soldier became the first to be convicted by a Ukrainian court of a war crime.

Earlier in the day, in a sign of the broader implications of the war, President Biden indirectly addressed warnings by Ukraine and its most ardent allies that failing to stand up to Russia would encourage future territorial aggression, including by China. At a news conference in Japan, Mr. Biden stated bluntly that he would use military force to defend Taiwan from China, and go much farther than he has to aid Ukraine, dropping the longstanding U.S. posture of ambiguity about such a conflict.

President Biden and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan arrive for a joint news conference at the Akasaka Palace in Tokyo on Monday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

When asked how the American response might differ in the event of an attack on Taiwan, Mr. Biden prefaced his answer by saying that Mr. Putin must “pay a dear price for his barbarism in Ukraine.”

NATO and European Union countries have so far demonstrated remarkable agreement in imposing tough economic sanctions on Russia and supporting Ukraine, but some fractures have appeared. Hungary has held up an E.U. embargo on Russian oil imports, though Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice chancellor and energy minister, said Monday that he was “positive that Europe will find a solution within the next days.”

And while some European countries, including Poland, have insisted that any peace agreement must include complete Russian withdrawal from Ukraine, others have been pressing for a less ambitious cease-fire, leaving open the question of whether the West might acquiesce to some of Russia’s territorial gains. Italy’s government has put forward a cease-fire proposal that the Russian government said Monday it had received and was reviewing.

But it is unclear where the combatants stand on a deal. Russia has kept its position murky, alternately embracing and spurning negotiation, sometimes in the span of a few hours.

Earlier in the war, Ukraine’s government said it would accept neutrality, dropping the idea of joining the NATO alliance — a key Russian demand and a feature of the Italian proposal — and would be willing to discuss territorial cessions under some conditions. It remains to be seen whether Russia’s battlefield struggles and mounting evidence of atrocities have changed the thinking in Kyiv.

The video appearance at Davos by Mr. Zelensky — bearded, wearing a T-shirt and a grim expression — underscored the contrast to past versions of an event that has become shorthand for indulgent self-importance. Russian officials and oligarchs, who ordinarily host extravagant parties, are banned this year; in their place is an exhibit on atrocities in Ukraine.

A peace sign in the colors of the Ukrainian flag in the Obolon district of Kyiv on Monday.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Mr. Zelensky said that sanctions should be pushed to the maximum, “so that Russia and every other potential aggressor who wants to wage a brutal war against a neighbor knows exactly what this is leading to.”

He said that while the United States, the European Union and others have moved to cut off or cut back energy imports from Russia and other commerce, and have blocked Russian banks from vital international networks, the measures did not go far enough.

“Don’t wait until Russia uses special weapons — chemical, biological and, God forbid, nuclear,” Mr. Zelensky said. “Do not give the aggressor the impression that the world will not show enough resistance.”

Many foreign businesses have suspended operations in Russia, but fewer have said they are leaving the country definitively; Starbucks joined that shorter list on Monday. Mr. Zelensky said companies should shut down completely in Russia “so that your brands are not associated with war crimes,” and invited them to relocate to Ukraine.

In Ukraine, combat raged around the city of Sievierodonetsk, a key target of the Russian offensive to expand the broad swath of territory it has seized in the eastern part of the country. American-supplied heavy artillery, 155-millimeter howitzers, has started reaching Ukrainian frontline units, reducing the Russian advantage in heavy weapons.

On Monday, a court in Kyiv found a Russian soldier guilty of killing a civilian, and sentenced him to life in prison — the first such verdict against a Russian taken prisoner. Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, 21, had admitted to shooting a 62-year-old man as he rode a bicycle in the Sumy region, in the early days of the war. Ukrainian officials say they have documented more than 1,000 war crimes and identified hundreds of perpetrators, most of who remain out of reach.

A court in Kyiv on Monday found Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old Russian soldier, guilty of killing a civilian, and sentenced him to life in prison.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

Mr. Zelensky said that an attack last week on a military training center in northern Ukraine had killed 87 people, far more than initially estimated, making it one of the deadliest strikes since the Feb. 24 invasion began.

Russia’s progress remains slow and its losses heavy. Britain’s Defense Intelligence agency reported Monday that the Russian military “has likely suffered a similar death toll” in just three months of fighting in Ukraine to the Soviet Union’s losses — commonly estimated at more than 14,000 dead — in its war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989.

Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments

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Zelensky urges an even harder line. Speaking by video to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine called on world powers to isolate Moscow further. Russia, usually a major presence at the gathering, was a pariah this year.

War crimes trial. Judges in Kyiv handed down the first guilty verdict against a Russian soldier tried for war crimes. Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, who had pleaded guilty last week, was sentenced to life in prison for killing a 62-year-old civilian.

U.S. heavy artillery arrives. American-made M777 howitzers — the most lethal weapons the West has provided to Ukraine so far — are now deployed in combat in Ukraine’s east. Their arrival has buoyed Ukraine’s hopes of achieving artillery superiority at least in some frontline areas.

Biden visits Asia. At a news conference during a visit to Tokyo, President Biden suggested that he would be willing to go further on behalf of Taiwan than he has in helping Ukraine. Mr. Biden indicated that he would use military force to defend Taiwan if it were ever attacked by China.

Ukrainian officials say that tens of thousands of their people, primarily civilians, have been killed. The United Nations’ refugee agency said Monday that the war has forced 14 million Ukrainians — out of a prewar population of about 44 million — to flee their homes, including six million who have left the country, in Europe’s biggest displacement since World War II. The war has pushed the number of displaced people worldwide to over 100 million for the first time, the agency said.

Such information does not reach most people in Russia, where independent sources of information have been forced to shut down, critics have been jailed or driven into exile, officials and Kremlin-controlled media grossly distort what is happening in Ukraine, and the government has made it a crime to criticize the war or even to call it a war or an invasion.

A few prominent Russians have spoken out, mostly from outside the country, but officials have toed the Kremlin line.

Yet on Monday, a midlevel diplomat in Russia’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva resigned with a scathing public statement calling out his own country’s “bloody, witless and absolutely needless ignominy,” and accusing its leaders of caring only about their own power and luxuries.

People gathering around destroyed Russian military vehicles put on display in Kyiv on Monday.Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

“The aggressive war unleashed by Putin against Ukraine,” the diplomat, Boris Bondarev wrote, is “a crime against the Ukrainian people” and against Russians, as well. He said the Foreign Ministry, where he worked for 20 years, “is all about warmongering, lies and hatred.”

In an interview, he said that within the ministry, “there are people — not so few — who think as I do. But most, I think, are still in the thrall of this propaganda that they receive and that they, in part, create.” He said that diplomats sent misleading reports back to Moscow, telling their superiors only what they wanted to hear.

Partly as a result, he said, the Kremlin “got Ukraine wrong, they got the West wrong, they basically got everything wrong.”

Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Davos, Anton Troianovski from Istanbul and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Reporting was contributed by Mark Landler from Davos; Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Tokyo; Peter Baker from Seoul; Andrew E. Kramer from Pokrovsk, Ukraine; Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv; Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva; and Matthew Mpoke Bigg from Krakow, Poland.

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