BERLIN (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday that 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, Zelenskyy said Ukraine’s goal is to free the territories within its internationally recognized borders.
The Washington Post cited previously undisclosed documents from a trove of U.S. intelligence leaks suggesting that Zelenskyy has considered trying to capture areas in Russia proper for possible use as bargaining chips in peace negotiations to end the war launched by Moscow in February 2022. This would put him at odds with Western governments that have insisted that weapons they provide must not be used to attack targets in Russia.
Asked about the report, Zelenskyy said: “We don’t attack Russian territory, we liberate our own legitimate territory.”
“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 recognized internationally,” Zelenskyy said.
Among the areas still occupied by Russia are the Crimean peninsula and parts of eastern Ukraine with mainly Russian-speaking populations.
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’s been destroyed by more than a year of devastating conflict.
It was his first visit to Berlin since the start of the war and came a day after the German government announced a new package of military aid for Ukraine worth more than 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.
Zelenskyy thanked Scholz for Germany’s political, financial and military support, saying the country is now second only behind the United States in providing aid to Ukraine — and joked that he is working to make it the biggest donor.
“German air defense systems, artillery, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles are saving Ukrainian lives and bringing us closer to victory. Germany is a reliable ally! Together we are bringing peace closer!” he wrote on Twitter after the meeting.
Scholz said Berlin has so far given Kyiv some 17 billion euros in bilateral aid and that it can expect more in future.
“We will support you for as long as necessary,” he said, adding that it is up to Russia to end the war by withdrawing its troops.
The office of French President Emmanuel Macron later announced that Zelenskyy will make a surprise visit to Paris for talks.
Macron’s office said the two leaders will hold talks over dinner and that Macron will “reaffirm France and Europe’s unwavering support to reestablish Ukraine in its legitimate rights and to defend its fundamental interests.”
Zelenskyy said one reason for his latest visit to allied capitals was to forge a “fighter jet coalition” that would provide Ukraine with the combat planes it needs to counter Russia’s air dominance.
Germany has said in the past that it doesn’t have the F-16 jets Ukraine needs and Scholz responded to questions about possible plane deliveries by referring to the anti-aircraft system Berlin has provided to Kyiv.
After talks with Scholz and other senior officials at the chancellery, the two leaders flew to the western city of Aachen for Zelenskyy to receive the prestigious International Charlemagne Prize, awarded to him and the people of Ukraine.
In her congratulatory speech, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen compared the war in Ukraine to the fall of the Iron Curtain more than 30 years ago.
“Every generation has its moment when it has to stand up to defend democracy and what it believes in,” she said. “For us, that moment has come.”
Zelenskyy accused Moscow of trying to turn back the clock of European history in its attack on Ukraine.
“Modern Russia waged war not just on us, as a free and sovereign state, not just against united Europe as a global symbol of peace and prosperity,” he said in his acceptance speech. “This is Russia’s war for the past.”
French media reported that Zelenskyy planned to travel on to Paris late Sunday, but officials at the president and prime minister’s office wouldn’t confirm.
In other developments:
Zelenskyy’s chief aide, Andriy Yermak, said Sunday that five civilians died in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region when an unexploded Russian shell blew up. Another Kherson resident died in shelling, said regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin.
To people were killed in Russian shelling in the Kharkiv region, governor Oleh Syniehubov said.
Overnight, Russia launched a “massive” attack on Ukraine with Iranian-made Shahed explosive drones, which left more than 30 people wounded, according to the Ukrainian military.
Eighteen of the 23 drones were shot down, but those that got through, and wreckage from those intercepted, damaged 50 apartment buildings, private homes and other buildings, the military said without providing further details.
Russia also hit the western city of Ternopil and southern city of Mykolaiv with rockets, wounding an unspecified number of civilians.
Shelling by Russian forces killed two people — a 59-year-old woman and a 65-year-old man — in the Chuhuiv district of Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv province on Sunday, regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov reported on Telegram.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported Sunday that Ukrainian forces had killed two of its colonels in the Bakhmut area.
David Rising and Illia Novikov in Kyiv, Elise Morton in London and John Leicester in Paris contributed to this report.