Zelensky Says Companies Are Supporting Russia’s ‘War Machine’ if They Stay There

Global companies have a critical role to play in isolating Russia and helping Ukraine restore its economyUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday, addressing The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in London.

“The aggressor has to be isolated. Full, complete economic isolation. That will allow Ukraine to fight to defend our rights,” Mr. Zelensky said. “Leaving the Russian market is a must.”

Mr. Zelensky’s comments, during an interview with the Journal’s Editor in Chief Matt Murray, came as the European Union was preparing Tuesday to propose tightening sanctions with a phased-in embargo on Russian oil imports, the delisting of more Russian banks from the Swift payment network and fresh sanctions targeted at people spreading disinformation.

Speaking via videolink, Mr. Zelensky said the role of companies was as important as that of countries, in comments that echoed his address to Congress in March, when he called on global businesses to cut ties with Russia.

“If any companies remain in the Russian market, that means you are directly supporting that war machine, the terrorist Russian Federation war machine,” he said Tuesday.

Mr. Zelensky also warned executives of the risks of doing business in Russia, citing Ukraine’s long-held belief that the two nations were close.

“It seems to you that you have a business with Russia…a profitable business, but one day you wake up to find that a rocket is flying toward you from Russia, and everything changes,” he said through an interpreter. “It’s not possible to do business with someone who tomorrow, instead of payment, will simply send rockets toward you.”

At the same time, Mr. Zelensky struck a confident note, saying that Ukraine had stopped Russia’s advance and pledging it would liberate its territory.

“We are gaining ground and we are pushing away the Russian army,” he said, seated and wearing his traditional khaki T-shirt and a sweater fleece.

The Ukrainian leader said he wants to drive Russian forces back to their positions before the Feb. 24 invasion and would seek to regain control over all of Ukrainian territory, including the Crimean Peninsula that Russia seized in 2014, by dialogue.

‘We will create the best conditions for investment in all of Europe.’

—Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

Mr. Zelensky said Russia was trying to crush Ukraine’s economy by blocking ports and had caused $600 billion in damage. He would demand reparations from Russia after the end of the war, he said, adding that Ukraine would need help from the West, too.

He pledged attractive conditions for global companies to invest after the war ends, touting lower taxes, Ukraine’s population of more than 40 million and large energy resources.

“I’m sure after victory we will do everything quite fast, and Ukraine will be more beautiful than before,” he said. “We have shown heroism in defense of our joint freedom. We will create the best conditions for investment in all of Europe.”

He spoke of the resilience of Ukraine’s military, to which he said Russia would struggle to admit defeat.

“They have a huge army. They want to drown us in the blood of our soldiers,” he said. “They can’t say to their country that they lost to our unity, our modern army.”

Mr. Zelensky cast Ukraine’s fight as a struggle “for the values ​​of the civilized world,” describing his shock at the torture and killing of civilians.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking at the WSJ CEO Council Summit, described his shock at what he has witnessed, alleging that Russian forces had killed, tortured and mutilated civilians in Ukraine.

“I am in shock about what they did to real living people,” Mr. Zelensky said. “I simply have never ever seen anything like that in the world. I am still shocked.”

International and Ukrainian war-crimes investigators are probing allegations of Russian atrocities in the war, which Russia denies. The Ukrainian leader detailed violence that included starvation, torture and dismemberment.

“People claiming to be believers in God, not being able to see God in this way, that was the biggest shock,” he said.

“We saw terrorist acts…people’s throats were slit by terrorists,” he said. “We have seen a lot of that. I have.”

Write to James Marson at james.marson@wsj.com

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