President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials assured the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos that they would not agree to “freeze” the war unleashed by Russia, while Ukrainian veterans and volunteers delivered emotional appeals to global business and political elites.
Davos, a popular and expensive Swiss ski resort, had perfect skiing weather on Jan. 16—frosty air and bright sunlight.
While skiers and snowboarders cut through the snow-covered slopes, respectable world leaders, politicians, and businessmen landed on helipads, drove through narrow village streets in luxury cars, and held lively discussions in cozy conference halls across Davos.
This year, WEF’ motto was Rebuilding Trust. Its main discussions concerned four areas: jobs, artificial intelligence, climate, and security.
The topic of the war in Ukraine, which sometimes became a proverbial cold shower for the West, was also on the agenda.
“Before the full-scale invasion, we constantly heard – don’t escalate! We called for proactive action and sanctions to prevent the war from getting wider. We were told: don’t escalate,” Zelenskyy said at one of the meetings.
“And after Feb. 24 , nothing harmed our coalition-building more than this concept. Every ‘don’t escalate’ [said] to us, sounded like ‘you will prevail’ to [Russian dictator Vladimir] Putin.”
In his 16-minute speech, the president not only blamed the West for its calls “not to escalate,” but also reminded that Ukraine needs to gain air superiority on the battlefield, while the world should step up sanctions against Russia and hand over frozen Russian assets to Kyiv, which amount to $300 billion.
“This year must be decisive. Can freezing the war in Ukraine be its end?” Zelenskyy continued.
“I don’t want to settle for the truism that any frozen conflict will eventually reignite.”
Thus, he rejected the “frozen conflict” scenario that Western commentators are becoming focused on.
In addition, Zelenskyy coldly called Putin “mad,” “a predator who isn’t satisfied with frozen products” and “the embodiment of war.”
The speech won a round of applause in a hall full of world leaders and financial tycoons.
However, it’s not speeches, no matter how evocative they are, that are important in Davos, but private meetings.
“Very specific things are discussed here regarding the provision of weapons,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told NV on the sidelines of the forum.
“I’ve held several meetings that won’t be reported in the media as they were confidential. But we discussed precisely different models of solving certain issues related to providing Ukraine with certain types of weapons or financing.”
Talking war in a mountain paradise
While the participants discussed complex global dilemmas in the Davos congress hall, the main street of this resort, Promenade, lived its own life.
Representative offices of various countries and commercial companies that annually rent premises here for the duration of the forum made every effort to be alluring.
“Would you like some hot chocolate?” a girl in a black hijab who was standing behind a stall next to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) House asked our journalist with a smile.
“Well, OK,” the journalist answered. “Are you here every year?”
“No, every year different producers from the UAE are represented here,” she explained. “We’re working this year.”
Her candy stall played an important role in drawing attention to the UAE office.
The building rented by the UAE government had panoramic glass windows with the inscription “Impossible is possible” on the top.
Men in black suits were standing next to the building, smoking a lot, and having a lively discussion.
There are dozens of similar buildings around Davos. Their owners move out of their premises during the forum and rent them out to delegations of various countries and companies at ludicrous rates. Therefore, the street turns into a kind of parade of states and corporations.
The Ukrainian House had a very different kind of attraction. It had a large timer under the roof, counting down the time since the start of the full-scale war, with a massive blue and yellow banner below that read “Deciding your tomorrow.” This was the name of the exhibition that was opened inside the Ukrainian House by Viktor Pinchuk’s foundation in cooperation with the President’s Office. Pinchuk is traditionally the patron of the entire Ukrainian House.
Inside the premises, the guests’ eyes were immediately drawn to the screens that showed photos and videos of Russian war crimes, footage from the front, and the Ukrainians’ daily life.
On the afternoon of Jan. 16, a Ukrainian MP from the ruling Servant of the People party carefully examined the photos of children abducted to Russia, destroyed buildings, and troops.
“Were there any Western leaders who told us behind closed doors about the need for peace talks?” NV asked him.
“They won’t tell us about it directly,” the politician smiled ironically, asking to keep his comment off the record.
“They’ll wait for us to do it. Can you imagine what the world media headlines will look like if they do it?”
The office continued discussions during the WEF week, and each of them raised the topic of the war in Ukraine and Western aid.
During one such discussion, Niall Ferguson, a British-American historian and researcher at Stanford University, argued: it’s necessary to explain to the West how dire the consequences of Russia’s victory will be. Otherwise, the interest of the United States will begin to wane. If funding and military commitments from the United States were to end, Western Europe would also follow the U.S. path, he believes.
“We cannot allow Ukraine to lose this war,” Ferguson said.
“We cannot allow Putin to win because the financial, economic, and moral losses for us will be unacceptably high... If we provide Ukraine with troops, artillery, ammunition, and air defenses it needs, I think it can win the war. That’s why we must tell the world that war can still be won.”
However, if the vast majority of speakers expressed hope for the warring country in their words, some experts caused outrage in the Ukrainian audience with their statements.
Nouriel Roubini, a well-known U.S. economist, convinced during one of the discussions that no matter how much financial and military support the West provides, it won’t be enough for Ukraine to win.
“The reality is that now the counteroffensive has failed with all the money and weapons Ukraine has received,” Roubini said.
“Even if Ukraine is given the necessary weapons and money, a second counteroffensive in the spring won’t be successful as the Russians will use this time to build up their own defenses. Unfortunately, this is the reality.”
An alternative, according to Roubini, could be Kyiv agreeing to a ceasefire and focusing on restoring government-controlled territory, while not giving up on the long-term goal of returning the rest of its lands.
The audience disagreed with the assessment. Another Servant of the People MP, Halyna Yanchenko, rejected his theses, saying that Ukraine hadn’t actually received all the weapons it requested for the counteroffensive, while Russia had never fulfilled its agreements in the past. Therefore, she asked, what has changed in Putin’s mind so that negotiations with him could be successful?
A frozen conflict
The official Ukrainian delegation made the main statements at the WEF in Davos on Jan. 16, the second day of the forum. All of them had signs of Ukraine’s desire to show the world that it won’t settle for a frozen conflict.
In addition to the president, the head of his administration, Andriy Yermak, also spoke on this topic at one of the panels.
Yermak said that every frozen conflict leads to a new war, and the modern world has no strictly local conflicts.
Kuleba echoed the sentiment during his speech: “When we hear arguments from some experts or thinkers that maybe Ukraine should freeze the conflict, our answer is the following: we need frozen Russian assets, not a frozen conflict.”
After his official speech at the forum, Zelenskyy together with President of Poland Andrzej Duda visited the exhibition at the Ukrainian House.
The Ukrainian leader no longer made any statements there. Instead, his Polish counterpart emphasized the importance of bringing Russia to justice for war crimes. Duda also assured that “Poland was and will always be on Ukraine’s side.”
Ukrainian soldier Oleksandr Batalov, who had lost his leg during a combat mission at the front, spoke alongside Duda. The veteran called on the world to provide Ukraine with more weapons, adding that until the country is delivering a powerful blow to the Russian empire, which remains an irritant to global peace.
“We won’t have peace in the whole world,” said Batalov, leaning on crutches and looking at dozens of foreign journalists.
“You’ll remember that they [Russians] can always come to you. And you’ll understand it eventually.”
In addition to the three-day discussions at the Ukrainian House, Pinchuk traditionally hosted the Ukrainian Breakfast at the end of the forum.
The first guests began to arrive at the four-star Morosani hotel around 7 a.m., when it was still twilight in Davos.
While there was still time before the main event, the guests drank coffee and chatted.
Iryna Venediktova, former Prosecutor General who became the ambassador to Switzerland, was among those present in the hotel lobby when we arrived.
The first lawmakers also arrived there, including several Ukrainian MPs and other officials.
The latter took a pre-breakfast selfie together with Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States.
Andrzej Duda, UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, Croatian PM Andrej Plenković, Latvian President Edgars Rinkevičs, and Canadian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland began the breakfast discussion at 7.30 a.m., while the waiters were serving croissants and coffee.
Freeland, the granddaughter of Ukrainian emigrants and an influential Canadian politician, delivered a very emotional speech.
She emphasized that the threat posed by Russian aggression is not only a problem for Ukraine, but a danger for everyone. Therefore, it’s necessary to collectively recognize its wider implications.
“What really breaks my heart is when I see how Dmytro [Kuleba],” said Freeland, touching the minister’s shoulder, “and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, President Zelenskyy, have to come to our cities and ask for some things, and be so grateful for everything, and have to say ‘thank you’ to us all the time. Because the reality is that we have to thank you! You’re actually amazing, I can’t believe how well you are doing!”
Kuleba, in turn, called on the allies to boost the output of their defense industries and seize frozen Russian assets.
“If we take Russian assets frozen only in three countries, including the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Switzerland, we’ll be able to restore all the infrastructure destroyed in Ukraine, such as airports, bridges, roads, etc.,” he said.
“But if we take all $120 billion of [Russian] assets in Belgium, we can get a lot of weapons and rebuild many hospitals and schools. Russia must pay.”
At the same time, Cameron called for bolstering collective efforts to provide Ukraine with the necessary means to win this war. The Western economies together “exceed the Russian one by 25 times,” he said.
“All we need to do is demonstrate our economic strength, make it pay off. Then we’ll be able to help Ukraine end this war,” he said.
The emotional culmination of the event came when Oleksandr Batalov and combat medic Maria Nazarova spoke.
Nazarova, who is now 27 years old, told how she joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine back in 2014, at the age of 17. She is still convinced that she has not squandered her life, because she is doing what she knows best and what her country needs, which will ensure justice.
“There has never been a better time in history for us to be part of a global world. Please don’t lose your own opportunities, don’t waste them. Because we, as comrades-in-arms, are doing everything necessary,” said Nazarova.
“We want to empower the whole world to fight this evil empire. This is the justice we need. And it’s expressed both in 155mm shells, and F-16 fighter jets, and FPV drones developed and used by the military and volunteers. When you do all these things, you ensure justice. Don’t stop. Because we don’t stop, we haven’t stopped in our youth, we don’t stop in our adulthood, and we’ll never stop.”
The words were met with applause.
Batalov then echoed Nazarova’s message.
The veteran recalled when he had to lay low under enemy fire for six hours, waiting for evacuation.
“My family, my wife, whom I love very much, our children, our parents were the only thing that gave me the strength to endure at that moment,” he said.
“This is the force that motivates us, Ukrainians, to move forward and win back every meter of our territory.”
At this time, many Ukrainians present had their phones simultaneously broadcast an air raid alert—Russia had just launched another missile barrage at Ukraine.
Batalov continued his speech and asked the West not to give up.
“We’ll never give up because women, children, and family are the main priority in our lives. Therefore, we’ll fight to the last, as long as it takes. But with your help, we’ll do it effectively and quickly.”
This was the end of the Ukrainian program in Davos.
Leaving the breakfast hall, one of its foreign participants, moved by what she saw and heard, exchanged impressions with a friend.
“These speeches tore my heart,” the woman said.
“And especially the speeches of the military,” she heard in response.
Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine