DAVOS, Switzerland — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for “maximum” sanctions against Russia during a virtual speech Monday to corporate executives, government officials and other elites on the first day of the World Economic Economic gathering in Davos.
He said sanctions need to go further to stop Russia’s aggression, including an oil embargo, blocking all of its banks and cutting off trade with Russia completely. He said that it’s a precedent that would work for decades to come.
“This is what sanctions should be: They should be maximum, so that Russia and every other potential aggressor that wants to wage a brutal war against its neighbor would clearly know the immediate consequences of their actions,” Zelenskyy said through a translator.
“The amount of work is enormous: we have more than half a trillion of dollars in losses, tens of thousands of facilities were destroyed. We need to rebuild entire cities and industries,” Zelenskyy said, coming days after the Group of Seven leading economies agreed to provide $19.8 billion in economic aid.
He said that if Ukraine had “received 100% of our needs at once, back in February” in terms of weapons, funding, political support and sanctions against Russia, “the result would be tens of thousands of lives saved.”
Zelenskyy’s speech is a key focus Monday at Davos, the village in the Swiss Alps that has been transformed into a glitzy venue for the four-day confab ostensibly dedicated to making the world a better place. The event is resuming in person after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which also delayed this year’s meeting from its usual winter slot.
“This war is really a turning point of history, and it will reshape our political and our economic landscape in the coming years,” said the event’s founder, Klaus Schwab.
Zelenskyy, who received a standing ovation after this remarks, reiterated that Russia was blocking critical food supplies, such as wheat and sunflower oil, from leaving its ports.
Ukraine, along with Russia, is a major exporter of wheat, barley and sunflower oil, and the interruption of those supplies is threatening food insecurity in countries in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia that rely on those affordable supplies.
The head of the U.N.’s World Food Program called for Ukraine’s ports to reopen, saying the region’s farmers “grow enough food to feed 400 million people.”
If such supplies remain off the market, the world could face a food availability problem in the next 10 to 12 months, and “that is going to be hell on earth,” WFP Executive Director David Beasley told The Associated Press.
He warned that there are “49 million (people) knocking on famine’s door right now in 43 countries,” including Yemen, Lebanon, Mali, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Congo, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Beasley called on the world’s top mega-billionaires to aid efforts to prevent hunger: “The world is in real serious trouble. This is not rhetoric and B.S. Step up now, because the world needs you.”
Besides Zelenskyy’s speech, a sizable Ukrainian government delegation is attending in person, making their case for more Western support in the country’s fight against Russia.
Russian officials have not been invited to Davos this year, with what was dubbed the “Russia House” having been transformed by critics — including Ukrainian tycoon Victor Pinchuk and the country’s Foreign Ministry — into what they call the “Russia War Crimes House.”
The venue features photos of crimes and cruelties that Russian forces are accused of perpetuating.
While Ukraine will capture attention on the meeting’s first day, climate and environmental issues will be a constant theme until Thursday’s finale, with panels on extreme weather, efforts to reach “net zero” emissions and finding cleaner sources of energy.
AP reporters Kelvin Chan and Peter Prengaman contributed from Davos.