Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks about Russia’s attack on Ukraine during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, May 20, 2024.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks about Russia’s attack on Ukraine during an interview with Reuters in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, May 20, 2024. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

KYIV, Ukraine — Western allies are taking too long to make key decisions on military support for Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Reuters in an exclusive interview in Kyiv on Monday.

He also said he was pushing partners to get more directly involved in the war with Russia by helping to intercept Russian missiles over Ukraine and allowing Kyiv to use Western weapons against enemy military equipment amassing near the border.

Clearly frustrated, Zelenskyy described the delivery of the aid, in particular of air defenses like the Patriot systems which Ukraine relies on heavily in its war with Russia, as “one big step forward, but before that, two steps back.”

“Every decision to which we, then later everyone together, comes to is late by around one year,” he said, wearing his trademark khaki T-shirt and trousers and raising his voice at times.

His tough remarks come at a perilous time for his forces, which are outnumbered and outgunned by Moscow’s army and losing territory in the northeast and east of the country.

Zelenskyy suggested ways in which allies could help more directly, including by shooting down Russian missiles over Ukrainian territory in certain circumstances.

“Russians are using 300 planes on the territory of Ukraine,” he said. “We need at least 120, 130 planes to resist in the sky,” Zelenskyy added, referring to U.S.-designed F-16s, some of which he hopes will be used in combat soon.

“You can’t provide that right now? OK ... returning to the planes that you have on the territory of neighbouring NATO countries: raise them up ... shoot down targets, protect civilians.”

“Can they do this? I’m sure that yes. Is this an attack by NATO countries, involvement? No.”

The Ukrainian leader also said Kyiv was negotiating with international partners to use their weapons to strike Russian military hardware at the border and further inside Russian territory.

“So far, there is nothing positive,” he said.

The United States has resisted Ukrainian calls to use its missiles against internationally recognised Russian territory, reflecting concerns in the West about the risk of escalation while also seeking to ensure Kyiv emerges victorious.

According to the 46-year-old, the battlefield situation in the northeast of the country is now under control, after Moscow’s forces crossed the border and launched incursions towards the city of Kharkiv.

He said that the world should not forget that Russia was also pushing hard in the east as well.

Ukraine’s forces are already stretched thin along the more than 620-mile long front lines, but it will take time to prepare new recruits for battle under a new mobilization drive, Zelenskyy said.

On U.S. politics, he said he did not see “maximal risks” from any change of administration in November’s elections, even though Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is a Ukraine aid sceptic who has stressed “America First” policies.

“I don’t believe that Republicans are against support for Ukraine, but some messages that are coming from their side raise concerns.”

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