At Davos, Zelenskyy lashes out at Putin and presses allies to boost Ukraine’s fight

Jan 15, 2024, 9:01 PM | Updated: Jan 16, 2024, 2:26 pm

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy came out swinging Tuesday against Russian leader Vladimir Putin at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, while urging political and business leaders facing war fatigue in the West to enforce sanctions, help rebuild his country and advance the peace process.

Zelenskyy is trying to keep his country’s long and largely stalemated defense against Russia on the minds of political leaders, as Israel’s war with Hamas, which passed the 100-day mark this week, siphons off much of the world’s attention and has sparked concerns about a wider conflict in the Middle East.

He sought to center Ukraine as a pillar in defense of democracies.

“Anyone thinks this is only about us, this is only about Ukraine, they are fundamentally mistaken,” Zelenskyy said in a speech at the Swiss ski resort.

“Putin embodies war,” he said, lashing out at the Kremlin leader for leveling cities and imposing “the terrifying feeling that the war may never end.” He also offered criticism for a world that told him not to worsen tensions ahead of Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022.

“After Feb. 24th, nothing harmed our coalition more than this concept. Every ‘Don’t escalate’ to us, sounded like ‘You will prevail’ to Putin,” Zelenskyy said.

He thanked allies for sanctions on Moscow but urged them to ensure they work. He said he believed the European Union and U.S. would come through in “a matter of weeks” with more aid that has been held up by political infighting within his two biggest allies.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who along with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with Zelenskyy in Davos, said Washington is determined to keep supporting Ukraine, and “we’re working very closely with Congress in order to do that.”

It was Zelenskyy’s first trip to Davos since the war began — he spoke by video in previous years — and he rushed between meetings with political and business elites. Surrounded by a large security contingent, he’s drawn the attention of media and others angling to meet him.

Putin, meanwhile, described calls for peace talks as an “attempt to force us to give up the gains we have made,” calling that “impossible.”

Speaking at a meeting of municipal officials from across Russia, he also described Zelenskyy’s “peace formula” as an effective ban on peace talks with Moscow because “it’s a set of demands banning a negotiation process. Well, they don’t want it, and so be it.”

Between a dizzying array of big-picture sessions about everything from artificial intelligence to climate change, leaders from Chinese Premier Li Qiang to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Qatar’s prime minister are giving their thoughts on the world’s biggest challenges and opportunities.

Qatar Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said the concentration on the attacks on ships in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthi rebels — which have spurred retaliatory strikes by the U.S. and Britain — was “focusing on the symptoms and not treating the real issue” of Israel’s war with Hamas.

“We should focus on the main conflict in Gaza. And as soon as it’s defused, I believe everything else will be defused,” he said, adding that a two-state solution was required to end the conflict.

China’s Li focused on pitching the country as a place to invest, noting that “we are opening wide our embrace.” He said China’s economy is estimated to have grown about 5.2% last year, exceeding the target it had set of 5%.

China’s economy, for decades a leading engine of global expansion, has struggled since draconian COVID-19 restrictions, with high youth unemployment and the implosion of its overbuilt property market.

Li gave veiled criticism of U.S. restrictions on China’s ability to buy advanced computer chips used in everything from cellphones to washing machines.

“Technology’s achievements should be used to benefit all humankind and it should not be used as a method to limit, to suppress another country,” Li said.

Von der Leyen, for her part, reiterated that the EU doesn’t want to break from a key trade partner but to ease the risks of relying too heavily on Beijing because “we have issues when it comes to access to the market, when it comes to a level playing field.”

She noted China’s export controls on metals used in computer chips, solar cells and more.

For the U.S., Sullivan told The Associated Press that he would not be meeting with China’s delegation. But outgoing U.S. climate envoy John Kerry did, arriving late to a panel on the future of U.N. climate conferences because of an “unexpected” meeting with Li.

He praised cooperation between the two countries on climate change and the speed of China’s rollout of renewable energy.

Zelenskyy, once reticent about leaving Ukraine, has recently gone on a whirlwind tour to rally support amid donor fatigue in the West and concerns that former U.S. President Donald Trump — who touted having good relations with Putin — might return to the White House next year following his win Monday in the Iowa caucuses.

Zelenskyy worked to parlay the high visibility of the Davos event to showcase Ukraine’s pressing needs in talks with corporate chiefs including JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and officials like von der Leyen.

“It’s time for us, for Ukrainian companies, for international companies to rebuild (the) Ukrainian economy,” Maxim Timchenko, CEO of Ukrainian energy company DTEK said. “To rely on ourselves. To build a future for Ukraine.”

On Monday, Zelenskyy stopped in Switzerland’s capital, Bern, where President Viola Amherd pledged her country would work to help organize a peace summit for Ukraine.

In Davos, Zelenskyy invited the world to join in and urged allies: “Please, strengthen our economy, and we will strengthen your security.”

While the world’s geopolitical situation has oozed gloom, artificial intelligence is a major topic at Davos with both exciting prospects for innovation as well as risks.

At a Bloomberg News event surrounding Davos, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, whose company has invested billions in ChatGPT maker OpenAI, indicated that issues surrounding OpenAI’s leadership have been resolved months after the startup’s board suddenly fired CEO Sam Altman, who was then swiftly reinstated.

“I’m comfortable, I have no issues with any structure” of the operating model at OpenAI, Nadella said. “What I would like is good governance and real stability.”

In a sign of OpenAI’s rising profile, CEO Sam Altman was making his first visit to Davos. At a Bloomberg event, he said he’s focused on getting a “great full board in place” while deflecting further questions.


AP journalists Masha Macpherson and David Keyton in Davos contributed.


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At Davos, Zelenskyy lashes out at Putin and presses allies to boost Ukraine’s fight