Putin wants to destroy Ukraine: Kiev security supremo

Tensions have been building since mid-November when Washington sounded the alarm over a massive Russian troop build-up on Ukraine's border
Last Updated 24 December 2021, 19:24 IST

Russian President Vladimir Putin is bent on destroying Ukraine but there is no major risk of an imminent invasion, a senior Ukrainian security official said on Friday.

Speaking to AFP in an interview, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, said that talk of Moscow's invasion could destabilise Ukraine and play into Putin's hands.

"Putin wants to destroy our country. Will he succeed? No, he will not," said Danillov.

"Our citizens will protect our country," he said, adding that both the army and civilians will form a broad national "resistance" movement if Russia attacks.

"We are going to protect our country. Full stop."

Tensions have been building since mid-November when Washington sounded the alarm over a massive Russian troop build-up on Ukraine's border and accused Putin of plotting an invasion.

But Danilov, 59, downplayed the risk of a major military escalation, saying Ukrainian officials have not seen any "critical build-up."

According to Kiev's estimates, the number of Russian troops along Ukraine's borders has increased from around 93,000 troops in October to 104,000 now.

"We don't think this is a big surge," Danilov said.

The security aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky stressed that authorities did not want to "scare people" with war talk as that "would destabilise the situation inside the country."

The Russian leader has for years questioned the legitimacy of Ukraine's borders and insisted that Russians and Ukrainians are "one people."

During his end-of-the-year news conference on Thursday, Putin said Ukraine was "created" by Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, in the 1920s.

Danilov accused the Kremlin of seeking to destabilise Ukraine from within by resorting to cyberattacks and deepening an energy crisis in one of Europe's poorest countries.

"I insist that it's the main task for Putin," he said.

If all else fails, the Kremlin could then move troops across the border, Danilov added.

The West has long accused the Kremlin of providing direct military support to pro-Russian separatists, who carved out two statelets in eastern Ukraine shortly after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.

Russia denies the claims and Putin has suggested that the conflict, which has claimed over 13,000 lives, is genocidal.

Danilov accused the Kremlin of seeking to further divide Ukraine.

"They want to tear apart our country so that it ceases to exist within its current borders," he said.

Moscow has denied it is planning to go on the attack and accused Kiev of planning to take back the Moscow-backed separatist statelets by force.

Danilov however said an offensive was not an acceptable solution for Ukrainian authorities as it would lead to a massive increase in civilian casualties.

"We would like there to be negotiations, we would like Russians to withdraw their troops, their tanks and go home," he said.

"But Putin does not want this."

US President Joe Biden has threatened Putin with sanctions "like he's never seen before" in the event of an attack on Ukraine.

Washington has also said it is ready to beef up its military presence in eastern Europe.

But Ukrainian officials have urged the West to provide more military aid and to also slap Russia with a round of preemptive sanctions.

"Providing us with defensive weapons is the number one issue," Danilov said.

"When our country is destroyed who are you going to impose sanctions against?" he added.

Putin wants the United States to give Russia guarantees that NATO will halt its eastward expansion and that Ukraine will never join the military bloc.

Washington says it is ready to discuss some of Moscow's security proposals in early January.

Danilov warned the West against deciding Ukraine's fate without Kiev.

Whatever the outcome of these talks, "it will not work if it is not accepted by Ukrainians," he said.

"We are not Russia. It is impossible to bring everyone to their knees because big men have decided for us."

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(Published 24 December 2021, 19:16 IST)

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