Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has taken aim at Western leaders who he says enabled Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, including former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In an address delivered Sunday night as reports emerged of war crimes committed by Russian forces in Bucha, a city in Ukraine’s Kyiv region, Zelenskyy said: “I invite Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy to visit Bucha, to see what the policy of 14 years of concessions to Russia has led to,” adding that he wants the them “to see with their own eyes the tortured Ukrainian men and women.”
Earlier in his address, Zelenskyy said the U.N. Security Council would meet Tuesday to consider Russia’s war crimes, noting that there would be a new sanctions package proposed. “But I’m sure that’s not enough,” Zelenskyy said. “More conclusions must be drawn. Not just about Russia, but also about the political behavior that actually allowed this evil to come onto our land.”
Zelenskyy noted that Sunday was the 14th anniversary of NATO’s Bucharest summit in 2008, when allies were to decide whether to greenlight a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) — a status that puts countries on the path to joining the Alliance — for Georgia and Ukraine. Ultimately, leaders decided not to give the two countries MAP status at the conclusion of the summit, though their declaration claimed: “We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.” Reportedly, Germany under Merkel and France under Sarkozy were among those involved in blocking the NATO ambitions of Georgia and Ukraine — in a bid to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Zelenskyy.
Of the 2008 summit, Zelenskyy said, “there was a chance to take Ukraine out of the ‘gray zone’ in Eastern Europe. The gray zone between NATO and Russia. Out of the gray zone in which Moscow thinks they are allowed to do anything they want. Even the most horrific war crimes.”
The Ukrainian president continued: “Hidden behind optimistic diplomatic statements that Ukraine could become a member of NATO, there was in 2008 a refusal to accept Ukraine into the Alliance. The absurd fear of some politicians of Russia was hidden. They thought that by refusing Ukraine, they could appease Russia, to convince it to respect Ukraine and live normally alongside us. During the 14 years since that miscalculation, Ukraine has lived through a revolution, and eight years of war in Donbas. And now we’re fighting for our lives in the most horrific war in Europe since World War II.”
But after specifically name-checking Merkel and Sarkozy and inviting them to visit Bucha, where journalists and NGOs report Russian forces committed war crimes against Ukrainian civilians, Zelenskyy softened his rebuke. “I want to be understood accurately,” he said. “We do not blame the West. We do not blame anyone except the specific Russian forces who did this to our people. And those who gave them orders.”
In response, a spokesperson for Merkel said: “Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel stands by her decisions in connection with the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest. In view of the atrocities becoming visible in Bucha and other places in Ukraine, all efforts by the German government and the international community to stand by Ukraine and put an end to Russia’s barbarism and war against Ukraine have the full support of the former German chancellor.”
POLITICO has also contacted Sarkozy’s office for comment.
Earlier in the address, Zelenskyy spoke directly to the mothers of Russian soldiers, saying in Russian: “I want every mother of every Russian soldier to see the bodies of those who have been killed in Bucha, in Irpin, in Hostomel. What did they do? Why were they murdered? … Why were women strangled after their earrings were ripped out of their ears? How could women be raped and murdered in front of their children? Their bodies tortured even after their deaths?”
Zelenskyy also said Ukrainian forces retaking Bucha had found “hundreds” of civilians had been tortured, killed and raped. But he warned the scenes in other cities, which are still under Russian control, could be worse still.
“After the expulsion of the occupiers, even worse things could be found there,” he said of cities such as the besieged Mariupol. “Even more death and torture. This is the nature of the Russian forces who came onto our land. These are the bastards who don’t know how to do anything differently. And these were their orders.”
Moscow has denied involvement in the alleged war crimes in Bucha, seeking to deflect blame — but Western leaders are now preparing to dramatically increase sanctions on Russia this week in response.
Hans von der Burchard contributed reporting.