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Zelensky to parliament: ‘Ukraine is on track to victory that all generations have dreamed of’
On Dec. 28, President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered his annual speech to the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, during its last session this year.
His address was held behind closed doors and was delayed for about 90 minutes due to an air raid alert in Kyiv, according to lawmaker Yaroslav Zhelezniak. Several Ukrainian TV channels later aired the recording of his speech.
Zelensky spoke for roughly 45 minutes about domestic and foreign policy and emphasized that the state’s most important goal is to restore territorial integrity and bring back Ukrainians held in Russian captivity.
He reported that more than Hr 1.2 trillion (over $32 billion) were allocated for defense needs the year when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Zelensky said that the Armed Forces had already liberated over 1,800 settlements from Russian occupation, and Ukraine had achieved the release of 1,456 of its residents from Russian captivity since the start of the all-out war on Feb. 24.
“Ukraine is on its way to the victory that generations of our people dreamed of. Our children are dreaming about it now. Our parents and grandfathers dreamed about it, too,” Zelensky said. “What was not achieved before will be achieved now,” he stressed, asking to take his words “very seriously.”
“This is possible thanks to the fact that for the first time in centuries, we have national unity, our own functioning state, and the general unity of the world,” he added.
Zelensky listed key achievements of the Armed Forces in 10 months of the full-scale war, such as the liberation of Kyiv suburbs and the strategic Snake Island, the sinking of the Russian flagship Moskva, and a successful counteroffensive in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast.
“Despite the Russian superiority in the number of soldiers and weapons, Ukrainian soldiers have an advantage in determination and the strength of their motherland under their feet,” Zelensky said.
He used the word “unity” several times during his speech, underlining that it is a critical element of ending Russia’s war in Ukraine. He thanked allies for the continuous support of the country in the face of Moscow’s aggression, especially highlighting the role of the U.S.
“A year ago, it seemed impossible that our state would have Patriot air defense systems. But now we have such an agreement. This is a special sign of trust in Ukraine. This is a true alliance with the U.S.,” Zelensky said.
The Patriot is the most advanced air defense weapon in the U.S. arsenal, and Ukraine has long sought to acquire it. U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken announced $1.85 billion in military aid to Ukraine, which includes Patriot systems, on Dec. 21. Kyiv expects the system to be operational in Ukraine after training in less than six months.
On foreign policy
During his speech, Zelensky reminded that this year Ukraine was granted the status of a European Union candidate, the first step on the path towards full-fledged membership.
“Ukraine cements the European Union and the entire free world with the struggle for freedom and peace. This is our main achievement in foreign policy over the past year,” he said. “We made it obvious to everyone that no union in Europe would be strong without Ukraine. That is why a majority of EU citizens supported Ukraine and the idea of Ukraine joining the EU.”
Membership in the European Union has long been Ukraine’s key aspiration, which is reflected in the Ukrainian Constitution among the main goals.
In September, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that Ukraine has the ambition to become a full-fledged part of the EU in two years. To achieve that goal, the country needs to fulfill European Commission conditions on issues related to justice, the rule of law, and anti-corruption, and then proceed with the negotiation process regarding EU membership.
On Dec. 27, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna reported that Ukraine has done “everything possible” to implement the recommendations provided by the EU.
“Progress on the Ukrainian side is dynamic, we are not ready to wait another whole year (until the fall of 2023) for a political assessment. That is why we expect that in early March, we will assess our steps together with the European Union and prepare for the start of negotiations,” she said.
On economy and reconstruction
Addressing the parliament, Zelensky said that all Ukrainian oblasts need reconstruction after Russian attacks, noting it would be potentially “the largest economic project of our time in Europe.”
He also pledged that Ukraine would restore parts of the Donbas (eastern Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts) and the Crimean Peninsula, which have been occupied by Russian since 2014.
Zelensky said Ukraine will survive this winter despite Russia’s missile and drone strikes on the country’s critical infrastructure and will also become a leader of the green energy.
“We have to become — and we will because there is no other way — a leader in the construction of modern green energy. This will allow us to create a decentralized energy system that cannot be destroyed by anything, no missile strikes,” he stressed.
Moscow has repeatedly attacked critical infrastructure across Ukraine since early October, killing dozens of people and causing electricity, water, and heating cut-offs. In its latest large-scale attack on energy facilities, Russia launched 76 cruise missiles, 60 of which were downed.
The National Bank reported on Dec. 27 that Ukraine’s economy will grow more slowly than expected in 2023, while GDP will fall by nearly a third by the end of this year due to Russian mass attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Zelensky also noted the role of financial support for Ukraine from allies, calling it “crucial.”
Zelensky stated that an essential part of Ukraine’s policy is creating a Russian war crimes tribunal.
“I am sure that the tribunal will work. The international compensation mechanism that we are currently building will also work. At the same time, we must cooperate as much as possible with our international partners, with the International Criminal Court,” Zelensky said, adding that “no crime committed by the occupiers in Ukraine should go unpunished.”
In late November, the European Commission revealed its plans to set up a UN-backed specialized court to prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression, a term which refers specifically to the select few individuals responsible for the decision to invade Ukraine. Making the announcement, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that “Russia must pay for its horrific crimes.”
Ten months into Russia’s full-scale invasion, Moscow is believed to have killed tens of thousands of civilians across Ukraine and caused immeasurable damage to Ukrainian cities.
According to the UN, at least 6,884 civilians have been killed and 10,947 have been wounded in Ukraine since Feb. 24.
A war crime tribunal is also part of Zelensky’s 10-point peace plan.
His peace formula envisages preventing ecocide in Ukraine, punishing those responsible for war crimes, withdrawing all Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine, restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and the release of all prisoners of war and deportees. The proposals also call for ensuring energy security, food security, and nuclear safety.
In the parliament, Zelensky also talked about new security guarantees for the country and reforming existing international organizations.