Ukrainian counteroffensive does not aim to attack Russian territory – Zelensky

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Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has said his country is preparing a counteroffensive designed to liberate areas occupied by Russia, not to attack Russian territory.

Speaking during a news conference with German chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin, Mr Zelensky said Ukraine’s goal was to free the territories within its internationally recognised borders.

There has been speculation that Ukraine might try to capture areas in Russia proper and use them as bargaining chips in possible peace negotiations to end the war launched by Moscow in February 2022.

“We have neither the time nor the strength (to attack Russia),” he said, according to an official interpreter.

“And we also don’t have weapons to spare, with which we could do this.”

“We are preparing a counterattack for the illegally occupied areas based on our constitutionally defined legitimate borders, which are recognised internationally,” Mr Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian president is visiting allies in search of further arms to help his country fend off the Russian invasion, and funds to rebuild what has been destroyed by more than a year of devastating conflict.

A Luftwaffe jet flew Mr Zelensky to the German capital from Rome, where he had met with Pope Francis and Italian premier Giorgia Meloni on Saturday.

It is his first visit to Berlin since the start of the war and comes a day after the German government announced a new package of military aid for Ukraine worth more than 2.7 billion euros (£2.4 billion), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.

Mr Zelensky thanked Mr Scholz for Germany’s political, financial and military support, saying the country was now second only behind the US in providing aid to Ukraine — and joked that he was working to make it the biggest donor.

Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz, right, greets Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky at the chancellery in Berlin
Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz, right, met with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky at the chancellery in Berlin (Matthias Schrader/AP)

“We will support you for as long as necessary,” he said, adding that it was up to Russia to end the war by withdrawing its troops.

After initially hesitating to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons, Germany has become one of the biggest suppliers of arms to Ukraine,
including Leopard 1 and 2 battle tanks, and the sophisticated IRIS-T SLM air-defence system.

Modern western hardware is considered crucial if Ukraine is to succeed in its planned counteroffensive against Russian troops.

Mr Zelensky first met with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s head of state, who was snubbed by Kyiv last year, apparently over his previous close ties to Russia, causing a chill in diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Germany.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, centre, and German chancellor Olaf Scholz review the honour guard at the Federal Chancellery in Berlin
Mr Zelensky, centre, and Mr Scholz, left, reviewed the honour guard (Wolfgang Kumm/dpa via AP)

Announcing the new arms package, German defence minister Boris Pistorius said Berlin would help Ukraine for “as long as it takes”.

After meeting Mr Scholz and other senior officials at the chancellery, the two leaders were expected to fly to the western city of Aachen for Mr Zelensky to receive the International Charlemagne Prize awarded to him and the people of Ukraine.

Organisers said the award recognised that their resistance against Russia’s invasion was a defence “not just of the sovereignty of their country and the life of its citizens, but also of Europe and European values”.

While German leaders have expressed strong backing for Ukraine, German voters are divided on whether the country should provide further weapons, particularly advanced fighter jets of the kind Kyiv is asking its allies for.

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