Ukraine has “broken the backbone” of the Russian army and will gain victory in bloody battle, but the end of the war will be achieved through diplomacy, says Volodymyr Zelensky.
In a TV interview to mark his third year as president, Mr Zelensky said Ukraine’s military had inflicted enough damage on Russia to ensure “they will not be able to get back on their feet for the next few years”.
His comments came as Russia claimed control of Mariupol after the last 2400 Ukrainian forces, who been defending the city’s Azovstal steelworks, surrendered and were taken captive.
Despite this strategic setback for Ukraine, Mr Zelensky declared that his country “wanted everything back” from Russia.
And he vowed Ukraine would take it all back, adding that the country’s forces would return the front lines to where they were before February 24, when Russia invaded.
“It will mean that they did not conquer us and that we defended our country,” he said, though he noted this would be difficult and that diplomacy would follow.
Meanwhile Moscow has published a “stop list” of 963 Americans who will be indefinitely banned from entering Russia, including politicians, journalists, CEOs and a Hollywood celebrity.
Russia’s ministry said the US citizens were singled out because they “incite Russophobia” and the ban was necessary to force America to change its behaviour by “realising a new geopolitical reality”.
The list includes US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and most US senators and members of the House of Representatives.
Others were Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and actor Morgan Freeman who The Kremlin said had accused Russia of plotting against the US and “calling for a fight against our country”.
(Freeman appeared in a video in 2017 that accused Russia of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election which was won by Donald Trump).
Russia’s gains in Donbas
Russia is moving closer to claiming victory over Ukraine’s Donbas region.
Russia also launched what appeared to be a major assault to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the south-eastern Donbas region.
Ukraine’s General Staff of Armed Forces did not comment on Russia’s claim it had taken Mariupol in its morning update on Saturday.
The end of fighting in Mariupol, the biggest city Russia has captured so far and the main port for the Donbas, gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a rare victory in the invasion.
Victory in Mariupol gives Russia complete control of the Sea of Azov and an unbroken stretch of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine.
The Red Cross said it had registered hundreds of Ukrainians who surrendered at the Mariupol steel plant as prisoners of war and Kyiv says it wants a prisoner swap.
Moscow said the prisoners would be treated humanely, but Russian politicians have been quoted as saying some must be tried or even executed.
Meanwhile, Russia raised the stakes in an energy dispute with Western countries.
Russia’s Gazprom halted gas exports to neighbouring Finland on Saturday after it refused to agree to Russian demands to pay for Russian gas supplies in roubles because of Western sanctions imposed over the invasion of Ukraine.
The move comes days after Finland and Sweden announced they would apply to join the NATO military alliance, a decision spurred by the Ukraine war.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has objected to Sweden and Finland’s applications because of his concerns the two countries harbour terrorists.
Mr Erdogan spoke to the leaders of both nations and told them Turkey expected concrete steps to be taken to address his concerns.
Leaders of other NATO members have expressed confidence that Turkey’s objections will not be a roadblock for the membership process.