Zelensky accuses Germany of letting down Ukraine

Volodymyr Zelensky launched an excoriating attack on Germany over its policy towards Ukraine, accusing its leaders of placing good economic relations with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, over the security of Europe.

“We’ve seen how many ties your companies have with Russia,” he said in an address to the Bundestag, “with a country that just uses you and other countries to finance its war.”

Ukraine’s wartime leader delivered the biting critique to German legislators on Thursday as Russia’s invasion entered its fourth week, with no let-up in the bombardment of his country’s population centres.

Ukraine has mounted fierce resistance, repelling Moscow’s forces in some parts of the country. More than 7,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine, with between 14,000 and 21,000 injured, according to US officials.

Ukraine claims that 14,000 Russian troops are dead, while the Kremlin says the figure is less than 500. Casualty numbers could not be independently verified.

Echoing recent speeches to the US Congress and the UK House of Commons, Ukraine’s president pleaded for more military support, including a no-fly zone that the west has rejected because of fears that it would start a world war.

But Zelensky also scolded Germany’s long-held faith in economic engagement with Moscow, singling out the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the recently suspended project designed to bring Russian gas directly to Europe under the Baltic Sea.

“When we told you that Nord Stream 2 was a weapon and preparation for a great war, you said it was just a commercial project,” he said.

Zelensky thanked those companies “that placed morality above profits”. But he also complained that he had long begged “in vain” for help from Germany and failed to win support for Ukrainian membership of Nato. “And even now you are hesitating to admit Ukraine into the EU,” he said.

Zelensky’s address came as civilians emerged from the wreckage of a theatre in Mariupol that was bombed by Russian planes, prompting further outrage from the west.

Joe Biden, US president, will hold a telephone call with Xi Jinping on Friday to discuss the war in Ukraine, among other issues.

The call between the leaders of the US and China is part of “efforts to maintain open lines of communication” between the two countries, the White House said.

The call comes after Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, met Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy adviser, in Rome this week. Sullivan made clear before his trip that China would face consequences if it undermined western pressure on Putin and his regime.

Biden on Wednesday described Putin as a war criminal for the first time since the invasion of February 24 in comments the Kremlin denounced as “unforgivable”.

With Russia’s economy reeling from sanctions, Putin has lashed out at what he called western attempts to exploit a treacherous “fifth column” in Russia and called on the country to “purify itself” of “traitors” and “scum”.

Putin has insisted that his campaign in Ukraine is going to plan, but his ground forces have in recent days failed to marshal the military power needed to make decisive territorial gains, particularly in the north.

Map showing the location of the theatre in Mariupol that was bombed on March 16, all the people sheltering inside survived the attack

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has largely stalled on all fronts,” the UK ministry of defence said in an update on Thursday morning, adding that Putin’s military “continue to suffer heavy losses”.

In a further sign of US determination to support Ukraine’s defence, Biden approved the delivery of new US weapons systems to Kyiv, including a batch of light Switchblade drones that can be carried into the battlefield and explode when flown into targets.

As Russia continued to resort to aerial bombardments of civilian areas, at least one person died in the capital Kyiv when a residential building was struck by a downed Russian missile, according to emergency services.

Rescue efforts were also under way in the besieged port of Mariupol, as authorities attempted to reach people who had been seeking shelter in a theatre when the Russian air force dropped a bomb on the building.

Early indications were that most of those in the building had emerged from the attack unscathed.

“After a terrible night of uncertainty . . . finally good news from Mariupol!” said Serhiy Taruta, a local MP. “The bomb shelter survived. The debris began to be dismantled, people come out alive!”

Russia’s relentless shelling has set the backdrop to negotiations with Ukraine on a political settlement to end the war, which both sides claimed had made progress.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said on Wednesday that “absolutely specific wordings” were “close to being agreed”, including security guarantees for Moscow and neutrality for Kyiv. But the Kremlin on Thursday claimed that talks were held up by the “very slow” Ukrainian side.

Zelensky reiterated on Thursday that Ukraine could accept international security guarantees that stopped short of its longstanding aim to join Nato.

“My priorities in the negotiations are absolutely clear: to end the war, [achieve] security guarantees, sovereignty, restoration of our territorial integrity, real guarantees for our country, real protection for our country,” Zelensky said in a video address.

Some western diplomats remain cautious over Russia’s intentions in the negotiations, particularly because there have been no signs of Moscow easing up on its military assault.

Additional reporting by Max Seddon in Riga and Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington


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