‘Please stop playing games. I am the president of a country at war’

Asked if that had strained trust between the countries, Zelensky said, “I cannot risk our state”. He indicated that airing his private feelings wasn’t worth the potential harm to American support for Ukraine’s war effort.


“Where I can speak frankly, I do it. But there are high risks,” he added. “If it were my war against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, and there were two of us on the battlefield, I would tell everyone what I think of them. But here the story is a little different. We are all responsible.”

A White House official said the administration was “in constant communication with our Ukrainian counterparts about a range of issues, including over the unauthorised disclosures.” But the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said they would not comment on the details of those discussions.

Zelensky, who was entangled in then-president Donald Trump’s first impeachment scandal, noted that it was not the first time that his life had been complicated by US disclosures, and that he was now more focused on preparing Ukraine to retake territory occupied by Russian forces.

“I don’t know if it’s a manipulation or an accident, and so on, and why should I,” he said. “Despite such information movements, I have to prepare the state for de-occupation, not for other steps. And this is my task. Do you remember how our conversation with Trump got out? They printed it. Well, to be honest, I didn’t give my permission for that either.”

Wearing a black sweatshirt with the yellow Ukrainian trident symbol, Zelensky met with a group of Washington Post journalists and editors for an hour in a conference room with large monitors mounted on three walls – the room he typically uses for his video-link meetings with foreign leaders.

Firefighters work at an apartment building destroyed by a Russian attack in the town of Uman, south of Kyiv on Friday.

Firefighters work at an apartment building destroyed by a Russian attack in the town of Uman, south of Kyiv on Friday.Credit: NPU/AP

He at times appeared exasperated while commenting on the leaks and said he considers them a “TV show” that some people may be interested in but that ultimately aid Russia at a critical moment. Ukrainian officials and the country’s Western partners have hyped a planned spring counteroffensive, expected to kick off this month, as Kyiv’s chance to retake the battlefield initiative with new Western arms, including battle tanks.

Included in the intelligence leak was information about Kyiv’s air-defence deficiencies and details about which brigades were being prepared for the counter-offensive.

“Somewhere it’s a hype, somewhere it’s a scandal,” Zelensky said. “For us, anything that informs our enemy in advance in one way or another is definitely a minus for us. I don’t see any advantages here.”


One of the leaked documents included an assessment of military casualties, dated February 21 and labelled top secret. It said that US officials believed that between 15,500 and 17,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed, with an additional 106,500 to 110,500 wounded. The same assessment said that between 35,000 and 42,500 Russian soldiers had been killed and 150,500 to 177,000 had been wounded. Those figures are in line with recent assessments by Western officials, who have said that more than 200,000 Russian soldiers have probably been killed or wounded.

The slide, titled “Assessed Combat Sustainability and Attrition,” warns that the Pentagon has low confidence in the numbers it compiles because of information gaps, attempts by both Russian and Ukrainian commanders to maintain operational security, “potential bias” in Ukrainian information sharing, and “IO efforts” – information operations. Kyiv keeps casualty figures closely guarded so as to not dampen public morale.

“People ask me, who benefits from this? My answer is very simple: I don’t have time to figure out who benefits from this. I’m looking at who doesn’t benefit from it,” Zelensky said.

Zelensky declined to confirm or deny the information in the leaks – or even describe the disclosures as “sensitive” – because that would acknowledge that the documents are real. Ukrainian officials and the country’s military intelligence agency have dismissed them as being “fake” or as part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

“It is not sensitive,” Zelensky said. “If I answer you, that means it’s sensitive, it means there are real documents. Please stop playing games with me. I am the president of a country at war.”

The Washington Post

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