During a press conference following his visit to Latvia on 11 January, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy underscored the importance of air control in Ukraine’s ongoing battle against Russian occupying forces. He stated that Ukraine had liberated 50% of the territories occupied by Russia almost two years ago but emphasized the need for air dominance to advance its defense forces further.
On 22 December 2023, Ukrainian forces downed three Russian Su-34 combat jets over southern Ukraine. Although Russia has resumed tactical air strikes in recent days, the frequency and intensity of these operations remain lower than before the shootdowns, UK intel noted.
“The situation at the front is very complicated. We lack weapons. If the Russians did not control the air and we had enough anti-aircraft defense, enough systems, we would simply destroy their aviation. We’ve tried – it works. When you destroy them in the sky, you move forward. Ukraine doesn’t make wide steps forward because they control the sky… If we unblock the sky, we will go forward, if not – we will stand where we stand,” said President Zelenskyy.
He highlighted that the advancement of Russian troops in Ukraine happens only because they are not afraid to kill civilians and destroy settlements before entering them.
Despite Russia’s narratives, they have not been able to occupy any big city in a year, the Ukrainian President emphasized.
“Why isn’t there a single big city [occupied] – because people stay. And they [Russian troops] are afraid. Yes, they kill our citizens, with artillery, S-300. But they cannot completely destroy a city because they are really afraid it will be another Bucha. Because Bucha, Mariupol – it’s genocide. Now they don’t want to make such a ‘mistake’ again – in their words. So they strike cities to make people flee, to then come in and destroy everything. That’s why they haven’t been able to occupy any city. This is the answer for everyone, what will happen if they enter your village. They won’t enter your village if you don’t surrender,” he said.
The President cited the example of the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast, which Russia claimed to have captured only after destroying it completely.
“We know such an example as Bakhmut, which they were proud of. I don’t understand what there is to be proud of, there is nothing there. It’s a field, completely destroyed. This is also an answer for those people who ask what will happen if Russia comes,” said the President.
He stated that the Russian Army is preparing for offensive operations, particularly ahead of Russia’s presidential election scheduled for March 2024, as they aim to demonstrate “achievements,” and are currently amassing troops.
Zelenskyy also added that Russia is pressuring young people in the temporarily occupied territories to mobilize them. Moreover, he noted that these people are not included in Russian statistics, and their deaths will not be accounted for.
On 9 January, the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense (GUR) reported that Russian forces are intensifying efforts to replenish their military losses using the male population in the occupied territories of Ukraine. Virtually all men aged 18 to 65, and often even 16 and 17-year-old teenagers, are under threat of forced mobilization, with Moscow compelling them to join the occupying army, GUR concluded.
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