President Volodymyr Zelensky called for Vladimir Putin to be tried for his “criminal actions” at the Hague, during a trip to the Netherlands today to bolster support for Ukraine ahead of a critical spring offensive, writes Mattie Brignal.

“We all want to see a different Vladimir here in the Hague,” said Zelensky in a speech at the International Criminal Court, “the one who deserves to be sanctioned for his criminal actions here, in the capital of international law.”

After a brief visit to Finland yesterday, Zelensky met with Dutch PM Mark Rutte and Belgian PM Alexander De Croo today, urging even tougher sanctions against Russia, which overnight launched lethal drone attacks on Kyiv and Kherson, killing 21 people. He called for the “assets of the terrorist state to be confiscated” and “ruins [of Ukraine] to be rebuilt”.

The trip comes in the aftermath of yesterday’s drone strike on the Kremlin, with Russia and Ukraine offering wildly different explanations. Was it a Ukrainian terrorist plot to assassinate Putin, or a Russian “false flag” to justify further atrocities on the battlefield?

Both explanations have their flaws. Pretending the Kremlin had been attacked by hostile forces would prompt questions about Russia’s air defences and make the country look weak, while targeting the Kremlin would seem an odd way to assassinate an ultra-security conscious Putin. The possibility of an internal attack by Putin’s opponents can’t be ruled out.

The Kremlin has now accused the US of masterminding the alleged attack, after initially blaming Kyiv, but without giving evidence. The Whitehouse today denied it was behind the attack.

Whoever is responsible, Ukraine and Russia have been trading drone attacks in recent weeks. A Ukrainian drone strike caused a massive fire at an oil depot in Russian-controlled Crimea, while Russia has targeted both infrastructure and civilians in a series of attacks.

Ramping up the drone warfare is a prelude to Ukraine’s long-awaited spring offensive to reclaim its lost territory, a moment that will reshape the conflict and define how it eventually ends.

Analysts believe the Ukrainians will try to cut the land bridge that runs from Russian territory through the Donbas to Crimea. The Russians are prepared. Mines have been laid, anti-tank ditches dug, and the existing web of trenches re-enforced.

If Ukraine fails, its Western backers’ appetite to keep pouring resources into what looks like a lost cause will diminish. This offensive could be Ukraine’s last shot at a big push.

A protracted war suits Putin. The longer it drags on, the greater the pressure on Zelensky to do a deal, the broad outlines of which have been apparent since the war’s early stages.

Tim Marshall sketches out this scenario in his column, out tomorrow: “Russia keeps the Crimea, takes part of the Donbas, a demilitarised zone is imposed along the front lines, and NATO gives ‘assurances’ to Ukraine about its sovereignty. Putin declares victory, the Western countries declare democracy has been saved, and only the Ukrainians call it what it is – a victory for aggression.”

Short of a Ukrainian military collapse, this is Zelensky’s nightmare scenario, and the reason he’s in the Netherlands shoring up allied support. The next few weeks – on and off the battlefield – will be pivotal.

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