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Zelensky urges Western nations to act as Russia surges troops

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky at a meeting with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on Tuesday. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday urged world leaders to take “preventive” action as Russia prepares to annex more territory and send hundreds of thousands of newly mobilized forces to the front, rather than waiting to “react” to the escalation and risk losing lives and time.

Zelensky delivered his remarks in an appearance by video link at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, as Ukraine faces a critical moment on the battlefield, and as Russia doubles down on threats to use nuclear weapons if needed to defend territory in eastern Ukraine it plans to annex.

Staged referendums yield expected result as Russia readies annexations

Having wrested thousands of square miles of territory back from Russia since late August, Ukrainian soldiers are trying to extend their counteroffensive and recapture more occupied land.

But they face the prospect of a Russian force that will soon be buttressed by hundreds of thousands of newly called-up Russian soldiers and a Kremlin intent on shifting the balance of power in the war.

Ukraine has been calling on the United States and other Western countries to send tanks, longer-range missiles and other critical weaponry in response to Moscow’s dramatic threats of escalation.

So far, the United States and Germany — the two countries on which Kyiv has focused its request for tanks — have not agreed to provide them

Zelensky’s comments Tuesday amounted to a warning for Western leaders not to delay and miss the chance to head off Russia’s escalation.

Putin faces fury in Russia over military mobilization and prisoner swap

“The ability to prevent is a good feature in leadership,” Zelensky said. “You know about safety belts you have to use in a vehicle, just to avoid any dire consequences of an accident. We are not waiting for an accident to make sure we do need those safety belts, because we do trust in previous experience with previous accidents.”

Zelensky, who spoke from Kyiv, accused Russia of carrying out “nuclear blackmail” and said the world must guarantee that a nuclear strike does not happen, rather than waiting to respond to a cataclysmic attack.

“Prevention is the basis for lasting peace — a measure to cut short any aggression, a measure to save many more lives than by reacting to something that already happened, and it will ensure a lasting peace,” Zelensky said.

Photos show 10-mile line at Russian border as many flee mobilization

Zelensky underscored the importance of leadership if Ukraine is to have any chance of outmuscling Russia on the battlefield despite having a far smaller military.

“You can have a smaller army — because we are smaller than the Russian army — but your army has to be highly motivated,” Zelensky said. “You have to be followed by people who are able to watch your back, but your key weapon is people, and for people, the key armament is courage. They say courage loves leaders.”

The Ukrainian president obliquely compared Russian President Vladimir Putin to a killer who must be put behind bars.

“A killer is normally put behind bars in isolation after a court session,” Zelensky said. “It is not just about looking and finding punishment. It is also about preventing new killing from happening, which might happen if the killer remains at large.”

Zelensky said seizing the initiative, rather than responding in a reactive way, is critical to ensuring a Ukrainian victory. “The question is: When will it happen?” he said. “The answer is whenever we are able to act first.”

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia claimed to have seized control of Soledar, a heavily contested salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine where fighting has raged recently, but a Ukrainian military official maintained that the battle was not yet over. The U.S. and Germany are sending tanks to Ukraine.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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