Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, issued a warning on Tuesday, saying that if his country loses a protracted battle in a crucial eastern city, Moscow may begin rallying support abroad for a settlement that would compel Ukraine to make humiliating concessions. He also extended an invitation to visit to the longtime ally of Russia, China’s leader.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Zelenskyy warned that if Russian soldiers took Bakhmut, Russian President Vladimir Putin would “sell that victory to the West, to its society, to China, to Iran.”

Zelenskyy largely used English throughout the interview, saying, “If he feels some blood—smells that we’re weak—he’ll push, push, push.”

The commander spoke to the AP while traveling throughout Ukraine on a train, stopping in towns close to some of the worst battles and in others where his nation’s military had successfully repelled the Russian invasion. Since the fighting started a little more than a year ago, The AP is the first news organization to have traveled extensively with Zelenskyy.

Since then, Ukraine has shocked the world with the strength of its fight to the larger, better-equipped Russian military, supported by much of the West. The Ukrainian military has maintained control of Kiev and driven Russia back from other key strategic locations.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy during an interview with The Associated Press on a train traveling from Sumy region to Kiev on March 28, 2023. Efrem Lukatsky / AP

But as the war enters its second year, Zelenskyy is focused on keeping motivation high for both his military and the general Ukrainian population – particularly the millions who have fled abroad and those living in relative safety and security far live away from the front lines.

Zelenskyy is also aware that his country’s success has been due in large part to waves of international military support, particularly from the United States and western Europe. But some in the United States — including Republican Donald Trump, the former US president and current 2024 nominee — have questioned whether Washington should continue to provide Ukraine with billions of dollars in military aid.

Trump’s likely Republican rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also hinted that defending Ukraine in a “territorial dispute” with Russia is not a major US national security priority. He later retracted that statement after facing criticism from other corners of the GOP.