Zelensky and Biden say Russia's invasion is approaching crucial turning point

Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing Congress on Dec. 21. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Russia could soon launch a new military offensive, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned in a videotaped address earlier this week. He vowed to repel any such effort, which intelligence analysts have been expecting for some time.

“We have no doubt that the current masters of Russia will throw everything they have left and everyone they can muster to try to turn the tide of the war and at least postpone their defeat,” Zelensky said Tuesday.

President Biden, speaking before a Cabinet meeting on Thursday, seemed to agree with Zelensky’s assessment that the coming weeks could prove crucial, especially as the one-year anniversary of the invasion approaches, putting pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military chiefs to demonstrate to the Russian public that the costly war has not been for naught.

“Right now, the war in Ukraine is at a critical point,” Biden said, adding that, in his view, Russia is “not letting up at all.”

Any major Russian operation would likely have to take place during the frigid winter months, before spring rains turn unpaved roads to mud, especially in the eastern regions where most of the fighting has been concentrated — a notorious obstacle to moving troops and heavy equipment.

Ukraine’s devastating strike on a Russian base in the village of Makiivka, which killed at least 89 soldiers Sunday night, could intensify the Kremlin’s desire for a punishing reprisal.

Ukrainian soldiers
Ukrainian soldiers from a special forces unit prepare to fire mortar shells on Russian forces amid artillery fights in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Dec. 20. (Pierre Crom/Getty Images)

Dressed in his customary green sweatshirt, the Ukrainian leader said he had just spoken to counterparts in the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands and Norway, all of whom had pledged their continuing support.

“We mobilize the civilized world,” Zelensky said, reprising comments he had made during last month’s visit to Washington. “For the sake of life.”

This week has seen the United States, France and Germany all commit to sending armored vehicles to Ukraine, in apparent recognition that the war, now in its 11th month, is approaching a potentially decisive stage. Yet another rout of Russian troops could deepen tensions in Moscow, where few expected the war to last as long as it has.

“The terrorists must lose,” Zelensky said in his Tuesday speech. “Any attempt at their new offensive must fail. This will be the final defeat of the terrorist state. I thank all partners who understand this.”

On Thursday, Putin ordered a ceasefire so that frontline troops could mark Christmas, which, under the Julian calendar used by the Russian Orthodox Church, comes in January.

Ukraine rejected the offer to stop fighting, with Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak describing Putin’s ceasefire as a “cynical trap.”