KYIV, Ukraine — In a wide-ranging, hourslong news conference in a basement in the heart of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that he was confident his country could win the war this year, expressed hope that China would not provide lethal military aid to Russia and implored Israel to get off the fence and side with his nation.
On the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Mr. Zelensky offered a broad overview of where the war stood, the challenges Ukraine faced and the opportunities in the months ahead.
Not one to shrink from questions or to shy away from calling out even allies if he feels they could be doing more to help Ukraine, he nevertheless tread carefully when talking about China.
Asked about reports that Beijing was considering providing Moscow with lethal weapons, Mr. Zelensky initially ignored the question. When it was raised a second time, he said that working to ensure China did not arm Russia was one of his top priorities.
“I really want to believe that China is not going to supply weapons to Russia,” he said. Such a move would not only cause problems for Ukraine, he said, but would raise the risks of a third world war, adding, “I want to believe China is going to side with the idea of peace and fairness.”
About an hour later, the subject of China came up again, this time from a Chinese journalist.
Why should countries as geographically distant from Ukraine as China side with Kyiv?
Mr. Zelensky had the question translated a second time and then engaged the reporter directly, telling her that it was not about geography or geopolitics but basic principles.
Does China believe that innocents should not be killed? That a nuclear power plant should not be occupied? That respect for the sovereign rights of a nation means an invader should withdraw?
“I am already starting public diplomatic relations here,” he said, before switching to English to stress his openness to direct talks with China. “We have so many common issues, we have to speak between us with no one else.”
Mr. Zelensky’s confidence in Ukraine’s victory is premised on the idea that Moscow will not find a way to quickly and robustly rebuild its battered military.
If China begins supplying the arsenal for Putin’s army, all current thinking about the course of the war could be upended. But it is not just China that Mr. Zelensky is concerned about.
Iran is already providing attack drones to Russia, and the West has warned the Moscow is also seeking to acquire ballistic missiles. It was in this context that Mr. Zelensky was asked about Israel. Israel and Ukraine share a common enemy, he was asked, so why are they not stronger allies?
Again, Mr. Zelensky was careful not to alienate a potential ally. Israel’s targeting of Iranian drone and missile production facilities in Iran is probably more important than words of public support.
He said that he understood Israel’s long and complex history with Russia but said that he had wished for Israel to take a firmer stance against it since the start of the war.
“I really want them to be more than a mediator, but to choose a side,” he said. “The Ukrainian side.”
There were hard questions about possible internal disputes in his government. There was also a journalist from Azerbaijan who simply wanted a selfie with the Ukrainian leader, for his son. (Mr. Zelensky obliged.)
When asked, Mr. Zelensky briefly ruminated about his personal life and the difficulty of being away from his wife and children.
The Ukrainian leader said the darkest moment of the war for him personally was when he saw the atrocities committed by Russian soldiers for the first time, in Bucha. “It was horrible,” he said.
The best moment, he said, is yet to come.
“Victory Day is going to be the happiest day for me and every Ukrainian,” he said.
Over more than two and half hours, questions about how and when Ukraine could win the war, were the most frequent — even if that answer would only be determined on the battlefield.
Ukraine can win the war this year, he said, as long as its allies remain united “like a fist” and Western weapons continue to be delivered on agreed-upon timelines.
“I am confident we will have this victory, and hope it will happen this year,” he said.
Mr. Zelensky dismissed the idea of negotiations with Moscow, saying that at this moment they would make no sense. Before any talks, he said, Russia would have to stop the destruction and killing, and respect the right of Ukrainians to live on Ukrainian land.
“You go ahead and stop doing all of that, and only after that we’ll tell you what form will be used to diplomatically put an end to it,” he said.