Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, “didn’t want to hear” warnings of the Russian invasion, according to the US president, Joe Biden.
Speaking at a fundraising reception in Los Angeles on Friday, Biden said “there was no doubt” Vladimir Putin was planning to “go in”.
“Nothing like this has happened since the second world war,” he told donors. “I know a lot of people thought I was maybe exaggerating.
“But I knew we had data to sustain [President Putin] was going to go in, off the border. There was no doubt … and Zelenskiy didn’t want to hear it.”
Biden was talking about his work to rally and solidify support for Ukraine as the war continues into its fourth month.
However, despite the west’s ongoing support for Ukraine and Zelenskiy, a former head of the British army accused leaders of lacking a long-term strategy in the conflict.
Gen Lord Richards said the British government has adopted a “let’s see how it goes strategy” and is failing to show “decisiveness”.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: “There is, at best, what might be termed incremental strategy with again no early and decisive synchronisation of ends, ways and means. It is a ‘let’s see how it goes strategy’, in other words not really strategy at all.
“There is still little idea in London, Washington or elsewhere how ‘we’ want the war to pan out, or what sort of Russia we are seeking to shape, especially on the vital long-term issue of relations with China.”
He said leaders ought to be considering if there was an opportunity to “persuade a weakened Russia to align with the west” rather than be drawn into China’s influence.
“Britain remains one of the world’s leading economies and military powers even if it is a decidedly regional strategic power these days,” he added.
“Strategy is about choices and the more choices one needs to make to balance the ends, ways and means when pursuing the national interest, the more informed they need to be.”
It comes as Zelenskiy said on Saturday that Ukraine is on course to win the grinding war with Russia, as fighting becomes focused on a key city in the east.
Russian forces have been trying to seize Sievierodonetsk in an eastern advance, turning it into one of the bloodiest battles of the conflict to date.
“We are definitely going to prevail in this war that Russia has started,” Zelenskiy told a conference in Singapore by video link. “It is on the battlefields in Ukraine that the future rules of this world are being decided.”
But neither side’s forces have so far been able to steal a march despite ferocious street fighting, which has seen much of the city reduced to rubble, the Reuters news agency reported.
Britain’s defence ministry said on Saturday that Russian forces had not made advances into the south of the city as of Friday.
“Intense street-to-street fighting is ongoing and both sides are likely suffering high numbers of casualties,” the ministry said in an intelligence update posted on Twitter.
Addressing the Shangri-La Dialogue event from a secret location in Kyiv, president Zelenskiy said it was crucial that the nations sending aid do not let up.
“If … due to Russian blockades we are unable to export our foodstuffs, the world will face an acute and severe food crisis and famine in many countries in Asia and Africa,” he said.
He said that Russia is blocking ports in the Black Sea and Azov Sea, preventing Ukraine from exporting food to the rest of the world.
It comes as the governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, said Russians were in control of most of the city, after days of grinding advances and slow retreats by both sides in a conflict that one Ukrainian military official said had become “an artillery war”.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Mariupol said sanitation systems were broken and corpses were rotting in the streets of the southern city decimated by Russian bombardment.
The office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general said on Telegram that at least 287 children had died in the war so far, after it said it had learned about the deaths of 24 more children in Mariupol.