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Ukraine's Zelenskiy, allies call for greater focus on war

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a press conference with Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen

(Reuters) - President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his allies urged Ukrainians on Monday to keep their focus squarely on the war effort 18 months into Russia's invasion, an indication that authorities in Kyiv were steeling for a long campaign.

Zelenskiy has long called for greater focus on the war effort and pledged to intensify a crackdown on corruption as part of Ukraine's bid to join the European Union.

The campaign prompted the dismissal of Ukraine's defence minister last week and has also seen the detention of a business magnate who was once Zelenskiy's mentor on fraud charges.

But appeals by Zelenskiy and his lieutenants are now more strident as Ukraine's military presses its steady, but relatively slow, counteroffensive in Russian-occupied areas.

"Although today is the 565th day of this war, each and every one must be focused on the defence of the state, as in the early days," Zelenskiy said in his nightly video message.

"Russia does not hope to win. The enemy hopes only that we will not withstand it all. Ukraine must stand firm. Everything that strengthens us is a priority, the sole priority. There can be no weakening. We will allow no one to weaken Ukraine."

'WARTIME BUDGET'

The head of Zelenskiy's party in parliament pressed the point, saying the president could no longer be responsible for "cobblestones, stadiums, tennis courts and other junk".

"Starting from the New Year, the country will have to switch to a 'wartime budget' where there will be no more spending on these things," David Arakhamia said on Telegram. "Only defences and only weapons."

Zelenskiy has made securing EU and NATO membership - both complex processes - the top foreign policy priorities.

Western visitors remind him of the need to root out endemic post-Soviet corruption.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, in Kyiv on Monday, said Ukraine still had "a way to go in the implementation of the anti-oligarch law and the fight against corruption".

The Ukrainian counteroffensive launched in June has concentrated on securing clusters of villages in the country's east and south.

Ukraine's forces have recovered some territory, but far less than last year's advances. Russia shows no sign of letting up in its campaign which it says confronts the "collective West".

Zelenskiy has rejected criticism in Western media that the campaign is moving too slowly, but made it plain that he believes the campaign will be a long one.

In an interview with the Economist published at the weekend, Zelenskiy said there could be no illusion that victory would come "tomorrow or the day after tomorrow".

But nor was it a dream, he said.

War will continue for "as long as Russia remains on Ukrainian territory" and Ukraine rejected "frozen conflicts" long in place in other post-Soviet trouble spots, he said.

Zelenskiy said that those negotiating with Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin were "tricking themselves"."The mistake is not diplomacy," he said. "The mistake is diplomacy with Putin. He negotiates only with himself."

(Reporting by Ron Popeski and Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Jamie Freed)