Davos 2022: Zelenskyy says Russian war is testing whether brute force can rule world

Ukrainian president calls for tougher sanctions on Moscow in speech to World Economic Forum in Davos

Zelenskyy urges 'maximum sanctions' on Russia at World Economic Forum

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is seen on a screen at the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland May 23, 2022.  REUTERS / Arnd Wiegmann
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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took his country's rallying cry to the World Economic Forum in Davos on Monday, telling assembled political and business leaders that their annual gatherings would become pointless if Russia succeeds in getting its way by force.

"This is really the moment when it is decided whether brute force will rule the world," Mr Zelenskyy told delegates in a speech, in which he demanded tougher sanctions to stop Moscow's aggression in its tracks. "If so, that force is not interested in our thoughts and there is no need for further meetings in Davos."

It came on the first day of a summit in the Swiss Alps dominated by the war in Ukraine. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the violence was unfolding only 2,000 kilometres away from the idyllic summit venue, playing the sound of air raid sirens from his phone and gesturing at guests as he said: "We are defending you personally".

Mr Klitschko said more than 100 civilians had died in Kyiv in a war about to enter its fourth month. Ukraine said on Monday it was fighting to keep control of the stronghold of Severodonetsk in the eastern regions that have become the war's main battleground.

The head of the UN's food programme meanwhile urged the super-rich to put their money behind tackling food insecurity, a growing concern thrown up by the war between two of the world's biggest agricultural exporters.

"There's a lot of wealthy people in the world who can step up," said David Beasley, who last year sparred with Elon Musk over the Tesla founder's offer to put some of his billions behind tackling world hunger.

Mr Zelenskyy said Russia's invasion had turned Ukraine's ports into a "sea full of mines and blocked ports" – a manoeuvre blamed by western countries for triggering the global food crisis – and blighted its skies with thousands of bombs and cruise missiles.

"This is what the world would look like if this turning point does not receive a proper response from humanity," said Mr Zelenskyy, who called for more weapons and financial aid for Ukraine of at least $5 billion per month.

Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said at Davos that she could not rule out a recession for the world's major economies although she did not expect one at this stage.

Mr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was defying expectations by holding its own against the offensive but asked: "Would we have to do that if we were heard last year and a full range of sanctions were applied against Russia?".

He said sanctions needed to go further to cut off all trade with Russia and weaken its banks and oil exports. European Union sanctions have hit the buffers since the bloc's leaders proposed an oil embargo early this month, a move viewed warily by pipeline-reliant member states.

The sanctions "should be maximum so that Russia and every other potential aggressor who wants to wage a brutal war against its neighbour would clearly know the immediate consequences for their actions," Mr Zelenskyy said. "I believe there are still no such sanctions against Russia, and there should be."

Zelenskyy urges 'maximum sanctions' on Russia at World Economic Forum

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is seen on a screen at the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland May 23, 2022.  REUTERS / Arnd Wiegmann

He said setting such a precedent, including the withdrawal of all foreign businesses from Russia, should last for "decades to come" as a deterrent to potential invaders.

"If the aggressor loses everything, then it definitely deprives him of any motivation to start the war," he said.

Companies who move their operations from Russia to Ukraine would protect their brands and gain access to European markets with which Mr Zelenskyy wants to become increasingly integrated, he said.

Mr Zelenskyy invited delegates to take part in the reconstruction of Ukraine after the fighting with Russian troops laid waste to cities such as Mariupol. Sponsors will be invited to take patronage of areas and support rebuilding work once the war is over, he said.

Russian delegates were banished from Davos after the war broke out, while Ukraine has sent a delegation to lobby for more support from world leaders. The event in the Swiss Alps is taking place in person for the first time since early 2020, after a hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic.

What was previously Russia House in Davos has been transformed by critics, including Ukrainian tycoon Victor Pinchuk and Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, into what they call the “Russia War Crimes House", displaying pictures of alleged atrocities.

A Ukrainian court on Monday found a young Russian soldier guilty of war crimes and handed him a life sentence, in the first such verdict during the three-month conflict.

A sergeant from Siberia, Vadim Shishimarin had admitted in court to killing a 62-year-old civilian, Oleksandr Shelipov, in the village of Chupakhivka in north-east Ukraine. Prosecutors said he shot between three and four bullets.

Updated: May 23, 2022, 3:16 PM