At a time when the U.S. is trying to tread lightly following President Joe Biden’s heated comments this weekend, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is letting loose.
Zelenskyy, a former actor who knows how to get a response from an audience, is accusing Russia of treating its dead soldiers worse than animals, and said attempts by his country to exchange prisoners of war have been met with a lack of interest by its adversary.
A news release from the president’s office cites his new interview with Russian media, in which Zelenskyy said he’s willing to conduct the prisoner exchange even while hostilities continue.
“It is not necessary to act according to some generally accepted canons: like, let’s wait until the end of the war, or let’s capture more … I do not understand that,” Zelenskyy said.
The president also said an offer to hand the bodies of Russian soldiers to their relatives elicited a callous response he believes speaks poorly of how President Vladimir Putin’s government treats its own people.
“They first refused, then offered us some bags,” Zelenskyy said. “You know, even when a dog or a cat dies, people don’t do so. These are garbage bags. I don’t understand what people think, what the parents of these children think.”
Russian media outlets have been banned from publishing the interview by the country’s communications regulator and Internet censor, known as Roskomnadzor, the Washington Post reported.
Zelenskyy did not totally spare his Western allies. He has been urging them to step up their aid and send Ukraine war planes they’re not using and are “just collecting dust.”
Though provocative, Zelenskyy’s comments were overshadowed by Biden’s final remarks during a speech Saturday in Poland, where he said of Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
The White House has since clarified that the U.S. is not attempting to have Putin removed from office.
WAS IT A GAFFE OR ESCALATION?: Biden stirs concern with remark that Putin ‘cannot remain in power’
LATEST MOVEMENTS: Mapping and tracking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
News comes to you: The latest updates on the situation in Ukraine. Sign up here.
►In remarks from Warsaw, Biden slammed Putin as a “butcher” for the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and said the West “has never been stronger.” Poland has been on the front lines of the refugee crisis, having accepted 2 million Ukrainians fleeing the war.
►Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a law Sunday that bans reporting on troop and equipment movements that haven’t been announced or approved by the military. Journalists of any nation who violate the law could face three to eight years in prison.
UKRAINE’S JEWS BAFFLED BY ‘DE-NAZIFICATION’: ‘We are that united family:’ Russia’s war uproots Ukrainian Jews amid false Nazi claims
Blinken: US not pursuing regime change in Russia
Hours after President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken made clear the United States does not plan to pursue regime change in Russia.
“I think the president, the White House, made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else,” Blinken said Sunday during a press conference in Jerusalem.
“As you know, and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia, or anywhere else, for that matter,” he said.
Julianne Smith, U.S. ambassador to NATO, also reaffirmed Sunday that the U.S. is not seeking to bring Putin down from the Russian presidency.
In a sweeping and forceful speech concluding a four-day trip to Europe, Biden on Saturday cast the war in Ukraine as part of an ongoing battle for freedom and ended with a blunt call for Putin to be stopped.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said during a visit to Warsaw, Poland, in his strongest comments to date about his desire to see Putin gone.
Shortly after the speech, a White House official speaking on the condition of anonymity said Biden was not calling for Putin to be removed from office.
“The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,” the official said. “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded, “It’s not up to the president of the U.S. and not up to the Americans to decide who will remain in power in Russia.”
“Only Russians, who vote for their president, can decide that,” Peskov said.
Macron responds to Biden remark
French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday distanced himself from President Joe Biden’s comments calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “butcher” and someone who “cannot remain in power,” adding that he is trying to avoid an escalation from Russia.
In an interview with French TV station France 3, Macron said he would not use that kind of language and noted his task is to achieve “a cease-fire and then the total withdrawal of (Russian) troops by diplomatic means.
“If we want to do that, we can’t escalate either in words or actions,” Macron said, according to a translation from France 24. Macron and Putin have remained in contact since Russia invaded Ukraine last month.
– Rebecca Morin
NATO ambassador: Biden comments a ‘human reaction’
The United States’ top NATO representative clarified President Joe Biden’s comments in which he said Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” saying the full administration believes “we cannot empower Putin right now to wage war in Ukraine or pursue these acts of aggression.”
Julianne Smith, United States ambassador to NATO, said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union that Biden met with Ukrainian refugees ahead of his speech Saturday and his ad-libbed line was a “human reaction to the stories that he had heard that day.”
– Rebecca Morin
Mariupol ‘does not exist anymore’
Mariupol, which has been pummeled by Russian attacks, is now 85% destroyed, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Olga Stefanishyna, said Sunday: “It simply does not exist anymore.”
“In Mariupol, the situation is extremely complicated, although we managed to take out of there more than 150,000 people, but too many of them still remain there,” she said on ABC News’ “This Week.” “They don’t have access to water, to any food supplies, to anything.”
She also said Russia has “forcefully displaced” some of Mariupol’s people to Russia, echoing a claim made last week by the city council.
Former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus called the city “a bit of a Ukrainian Alamo.” Mariupol is likely to fall to the Russians despite a vigorous defense, he said.
“It’s fighting to the last defender and pinning down multiple Russian battalions … very heroically. But ultimately it looks as if it’s going to have to collapse. It’s going to be taken,” he told “This Week.”
– Katie Wadington
Zelenskyy: West’s jets, missiles are ‘collecting dust,’ and they should share
KYIV, Ukraine – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has again urged the West to provide Ukraine with warplanes and air-defense missiles.
Speaking in a video address early Sunday, Zelenskyy said that “our partners have all that, and it’s just collecting dust. And in fact it’s necessary not just for Ukraine’s freedom, but for the freedom of Europe.”
Zelenskyy warned that the Baltic states, Poland and Slovakia could eventually face a Russian attack “just because they will have kept in their hangars. Just 1% of all NATO warplanes and 1% of all NATO tanks (is his request). Just 1%! We aren’t asking for more and we have been waiting for that for 31 days!”
The president questioned the West’s leadership and courage, then called for more support as he said, “Our partners must step up their aid to Ukraine.”
“Ukraine can’t shoot down Russian missiles with shotguns and machine guns that have accounted for the bulk of supplies,” Zelenskyy said. “And we can’t unblock Mariupol without the necessary number of tanks, other armor and warplanes. All defenders of Ukraine know about it.”
– Associated Press
Ukrainian envoy: Putin can’t lead Russia if convicted of war crimes
Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova indicated Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin should not lead the country if he is convicted of war crimes.
Ukraine submitted all the applications to open investigations against Russia in international courts for war crimes, Markarova said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Every Russian that is responsible for it will have to end up in jail for these war crimes.(Putin) has nothing to do to lead a state if Russia would like to be a democratic or even a civilized state,” she said.
“I think it will be difficult to run the state from The Hague,” Markarova said, referring to the Dutch city where those accused of war crimes are tried.
Speaking on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Markarova called on Western allies to give Ukraine more military support.
“We are not asking for American soldiers, but we need all the support … all the weapons including the anti-air, including the airplanes, everything, to stop this brutal destruction,” she said. “We will not surrender.”
– Rebecca Morin and Katie Wadington
GOP senators want fighter jets sent to Ukraine
The Biden administration decided over two weeks ago that a deal to send MiG-29 fighter jets from Poland to Ukraine – with the U.S. then replacing those with F-16s – was not possible, yet the issue remains a talking point.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told “Meet the Press” on Sunday that it should be revisited since the U.S. sends other military equipment to Ukraine. “We should also send the MiG 29s, to raise that issue again,” Portman said, noting Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a “green light” to the deal before the administration changed its mind. “And the Ukrainians insist that they need it, they want it, it would be helpful. I think we need to trust them on that.”
On “Fox News Sunday,” Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott echoed the same sentiment. Julianne Smith, United States Ambassador to NATO, said the administration was working with NATO allies to meet Ukraine’s defense needs but said the delivery of Polish fighter jets was not possible.
“Poland came forward with the idea of offering the Soviet air jets, we looked at that, we had some questions about it and at the end the United State believed that in this case the delivery of those jets was untenable,” Smith said.
Smith said there were questions about delivering the jets from Poland to Ukraine and concerns surrounding the Ukrainian pilots who could be flying the jets.
– Ana Faguy and Katie Wadington
Last rail link to Russia from Europe will end
Finland will discontinue train service into Russia on Monday, severing rail links into EU countries.
Since Moscow invaded Ukraine, Finnish train operator VR has operated a route between Helsinki, Finland, and St. Petersburg, Russia, to “provide a safe passage to the Finnish citizens.”
“During these weeks, the people who have wanted to depart from Russia have had adequate time to leave. Now, due to the sanctions, we will discontinue the service for now”, Topi Simola, SVP for Passenger Services at VR Group. said late last week.
– Katie Wadington
Zelenskyy: Moscow sowing deep hatred for Russia among the Ukrainian people
LVIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy angrily warned Moscow that it is sowing a deep hatred for Russia among his people.
“You are doing everything so that our people themselves leave the Russian language, because the Russian language will now be associated only with you, with your explosions and murders, your crimes,” Zelenskyy said in an impassioned video address late Saturday.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has ground into a war of attrition in many places, with the toll on civilians rising as Moscow seeks to pound cities into submission from entrenched positions.
A nuclear research facility in the besieged city of Kharkiv, near the Russian border, again came under fire Saturday, and Ukraine’s nuclear watchdog said that because of ongoing hostilities it was impossible to assess the extent of the damage.
– Associated Press
Kremlin responds to Biden’s condemnation of Putin
A spokesperson for the Kremlin on Saturday said President Joe Biden’s statement that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” was “extremely negative” for U.S. relations with Russia.
“Only Russians, who vote for their president, can decide that,” Dmitry Peskov told The Associated Press. “And of course, it is unbecoming for the president of the U.S. to make such statements.”
The White House walked back Biden’s initial statements in Poland, saying the president was not endorsing regime change, but meant that “Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region.”
Peskov said that with his statements, Biden was “narrowing the window of opportunity for our bilateral relations under the current administration.”
Rockets strike western Ukrainian city of Lviv
LVIV, Ukraine — Several rockets struck the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Saturday in what officials say were two separate attacks.
The powerful explosions frightened a city that had been a haven for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the Russian assault on other parts of Ukraine.
The regional governor, Maksym Kozytskyy, said on Facebook that preliminary indications were five people were injured in the first attack, but he did not specify what the two rockets hit. Hours later, he reported three more explosions outside the city, again with no details.
Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi called the second round of explosions a rocket attack, saying it did significant damage to an unspecified “infrastructure object.”
Lviv had been largely spared since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, although missiles struck an aircraft repair facility near the international airport a week ago.
The back-to-back attacks on Saturday brought a chill to residents and displaced Ukrainians who had seen Lviv as a relatively safe place to rebuild their lives. Home to about 700,000 people before the invasion, the city has absorbed many more.
– Associated Press
Governor of Lviv region says man detained on suspicion of espionage
LVIV, Ukraine — The governor of the Lviv region said a man was detained on suspicion of espionage at the site of one of the two rocket attacks that rattled the city Saturday.
Maksym Kozytskyy said police found the man had recorded a rocket flying toward the target and striking it. Police also found on his telephone photos of checkpoints in the region, which Kozytskyy said had been sent to two Russian telephone numbers.
Rockets hit an oil storage facility and an unspecified industrial facility, wounding at least five people. A thick plume of smoke and towering flames could be seen on Lviv’s outskirts hours after the attacks.
– Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine live updates: Zelenskyy says Russia won’t do prisoner exchange
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism