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Volodymyr Zelensky calls for ‘maximum sanctions’ on Russia during Davos speech

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the audience from Kyiv on a screen during the World Economic Forum in Davos (Markus Schreiber/AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the audience from Kyiv on a screen during the World Economic Forum in Davos (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for “maximum” sanctions against Russia during a virtual speech to corporate executives, government officials and other elites on the first day of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He said sanctions need to go further to stop Moscow’s aggression, including an oil embargo, blocking all its banks and cutting off trade with Russia completely.

“This is what sanctions should be: they should be maximum, so that Russia and every other potential aggressor that wants to wage a brutal war against its neighbour would clearly know the immediate consequences of their actions,” Mr Zelensky said through a translator.

He also pushed for the complete withdrawal of foreign companies from Russia to prevent supporting its war, and said Ukraine needs at least 5 billion dollars (£4 billion) in funding per month.

“The amount of work is enormous: we have more than half a trillion of dollars in losses, tens of thousands of facilities were destroyed. We need to rebuild entire cities and industries,” Mr Zelensky said, days after the G7 agreed to provide 19.8 billion dollars (£15.7 billion) in economic aid.

He said that if Ukraine had “received 100% of our needs at once, back in February” in terms of weapons, funding, political support and sanctions against Russia, “the result would be tens of thousands of lives saved”.

The war was a key focus on Monday at Davos, the village in the Swiss Alps that has been transformed into a glitzy venue for the four-day meeting ostensibly dedicated to making the world a better place.

The event resumed in person after a two-year pause because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which also delayed this year’s meeting from its usual winter slot.

Mr Zelensky, who received a standing ovation after his remarks, reiterated that Russia was blocking critical food supplies, such as wheat and sunflower oil, from leaving Ukraine’s ports.

Ukraine, along with Russia, is a major exporter of wheat, barley and sunflower oil, and the interruption of those and other staples is threatening food insecurity in countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The head of the UN’s World Food Programme, David Beasley, said in a panel that “the failure to open the ports is a declaration of war on global food systems”.

If such supplies remain off the market, the world could face a food availability problem in the next 10 to 12 months, and “that is going to be hell on earth”, he added.

Russian officials reiterated their assertion that they are not to blame for the food crisis, saying the country is not preventing Ukrainian grain shipments by rail.

“It is not us that are sources of problems leading to the world hunger threat, but those who imposed sanctions against the Russian Federation and the present sanctions themselves,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a call with journalists.

A sizable Ukrainian government delegation is attending Davos in person, making their case for more western support.

Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko, left, and his brother Wladimir listen to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko, left, and his brother Wladimir listen to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko pointed to the audience during a panel, saying, “We are defending you personally.”

“We are fighting, first of all, for values. And right now, everyone has to be proactive because we pay for that — the biggest prize, human lives every day.”

Russian officials have not been invited to Davos this year, with what was dubbed the “Russia House” having been transformed by critics — including Ukrainian tycoon Victor Pinchuk and the country’s Foreign Ministry — into what they call the “Russia War Crimes House”.

The venue features photos of crimes and cruelties that Russian forces are accused of perpetuating.

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