DAVOS, Switzerland — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for “maximum” sanctions against Russia during a virtual speech Monday to business executives, government officials and other elites on the first day of the Economic Forum rally worldwide in Davos.
He said sanctions must go further to stop Russia’s aggression, including an oil embargo, blocking all its banks and completely cutting off trade with Russia.
“Here’s what the sanctions should be: they should be maximum, so that Russia and any other potential aggressor who wants to wage a brutal war against its neighbor clearly know the immediate consequences of their actions,” Zelenskyy said through ‘a translator.
“The amount of work is huge: we have more than half a trillion dollars in losses, tens of thousands of facilities have been destroyed. We need to rebuild entire cities and entire industries,” Zelenskyy said, days after the major Group of Seven economies agreed to provide $19.8 billion in economic aid.
He said that if Ukraine had “received 100% of our needs at once, in February” in terms of arms, funding, political support and sanctions against Russia, “the result would be tens of thousands lives saved”.
The war was front and center on Monday in Davos, the village in the Swiss Alps that has been transformed into a glitzy venue for the four-day conference ostensibly devoted to making the world a better place. The in-person event has resumed after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also delayed this year’s meeting from its usual wintertime slot.
In addition to war, participants addressed other major issues such as the threat of increasing world hunger, climate change, inequality and persistent health crises. But it’s hard to predict whether the ambitious talks will result in substantive announcements that will advance the world’s most pressing challenges.
Ukraine, along with Russia, is a major exporter of wheat, barley and sunflower oil, and the disruption of these and other staples threatens food insecurity in countries across Africa, from the Middle East and Asia that depend on these affordable supplies.
The head of the UN’s World Food Program told a panel that “the failure to open ports is a declaration of war on global food systems.” He told The Associated Press that farmers in the region “grow enough food to feed 400 million people.”
If these supplies remain off the market, the world could face a food availability problem in the next 10 to 12 months, and “it’s going to be hell on earth,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. to the AP in an interview.
He warned that there are “49 million (people) currently knocking on the door of famine in 43 countries”, including Yemen, Lebanon, Mali, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Congo, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Beasley called on the world’s billionaires to support hunger prevention efforts: “The world is really in deep trouble. This is not rhetoric and BS Step up now because the world needs you.
Russian officials on Monday reiterated their assertion that they are not responsible for the food crisis, saying the country is not impeding Ukrainian grain shipments by rail.
“It is not us who are the cause of the problems leading to the threat of world hunger, but those who imposed sanctions on the Russian Federation and the current sanctions themselves,” said the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on a call with reporters.
In addition to Zelenskyy’s speech, a large Ukrainian government delegation is present in person, pleading for more Western support.
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko pointed the finger at the audience during a panel, saying: “We defend you personally.”
“We are fighting, above all, for values” and to be part of the democratic world, Klitschko said. “And right now everyone has to be proactive because we’re paying for that – the biggest price, human lives every day.”
Russian officials have not been invited to Davos this year, which has been dubbed the ‘House of Russia’ having been turned by critics – including Ukrainian tycoon Victor Pinchuk and the country’s foreign ministry – into this which they call the “War Crimes House in Russia”. The place features photos of crimes and cruelties that Russian forces are accused of perpetuating.
Meanwhile, the head of the International Energy Agency has urged countries and investors not to view energy shocks from war as a reason to increase fossil fuel investment – linking the invasion to another major Davos theme, climate change and environmental issues.
“We shouldn’t try to justify a new wave of long-term investment in fossil fuels based on what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has done,” Fatih Birol told a panel on the energy.
Instead, efficiency gains, such as reducing methane leaks and even lowering thermostats a few degrees this winter in Europe, would help ensure adequate energy supplies.
Russia is a major supplier of oil and natural gas, with the invasion pushing European countries to scramble to reduce their dependence on Moscow through fossil fuel supplies from other countries, conservation and to the acceleration of the development of renewable energies.
Yulia Klymenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, had harsh words for European leaders, asking why they failed to diversify their energy for decades.
“How come you are all dependent and de facto slaves of Putin? she asked on a sign titled “The Return of the West?”
AP reporters Kelvin Chan and Peter Prengaman contributed from Davos.