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.
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 Danilov.
‘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.
It comes just days after Russian troops staged combat drills and live-firing exercises near the Ukrainian border.
Militants of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic walk at a fighting position on the line of separation from the Ukrainian armed forces near the settlement of Frunze in Luhansk Region, Ukraine December 24, 2021
Militants of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic – supported by pro-Russian separatists – observe the area at a fighting position on the line of separation from the Ukrainian armed forces near the settlement of Frunze in Luhansk Region, Ukraine December 24, 2021
Russian troops engaged in a frenzy of ‘exercises’ on the Ukrainian border just two days ago, hours after Vladimir Putin told US and NATO to ‘go to hell’, stoking fears of an invasion
New satellite imagery shows a Russian battle group in the Crimea peninsula just two days ago
More than 1,000 troops were involved in firing exercises in five regions on Thursday, while tanks conducted mobile defence drills involving 500 soldiers
Moscow has for weeks been massing tens of thousands of troops, tanks and artillery pieces along its eastern flank, sparking fears of an invasion, though the Kremlin has insisted it is merely a defence force (pictured, Russian forces currently massed in border regions)
Ukrainian reservists attend a military exercise at a training ground near Kiev, Ukraine, 18 December 2021 (issued 19 December 2021), in preparation for a potential 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.
Ukrainian reservists conduct combat exercises in preparation for an invasion. According to a survey conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) in December 2021 and published on 17 December 2021, the 50,2 percent of Ukrainians said they would resist in case of a Russian military intervention into their city, town or village. Every third respondent to the poll, the 33,3 percent, said they were ready to engage in armed resistance.
AFTER: Newly-published pictures dated December 13 show a new brigade-level unit comprised of several hundred armoured vehicles massed at a Russian base in Bakhchysarai, Crimea, around 110 miles from the Ukrainian border
Five ultra modern MiG-31BM interceptor fighter jets (pictured) practiced yesterday amid claims ‘mass grave’ sties, each capable of accommodating 100 bodies, are being prepared along the Ukrainian border
Militants of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic are seen at a fighting position on the line of separation from the Ukrainian armed forces near the settlement of Frunze in Luhansk Region, Ukraine December 24, 2021.
Putin, speaking at his annual end-of-year press conference yesterday, accused NATO and the US of planning to deploy hypersonic missiles – which have not yet been successfully developed – to Ukraine
What did Vladimir Putin say on each topic at his end-of-year press conference?
On possible conflict with Ukraine:
‘This is not our choice, we do not want this.’
‘We have to think about ensuring our security prospects not just for today and next week but for the near future.’
‘We just directly posed the question that there should be no further NATO movement to the east, the ball is in their court, they should answer us with something. In this regard, I would like to stress that on the whole we have seen a positive reaction so far, our American partners tell us that they are ready to start this discussion.’
On NATO expansion:
‘What is unclear here? Are we putting missiles next to the United States’ borders? No, it is the United States that has come to us with their missiles, they are already on our doorstep.’
‘The course of negotiations is not important to us, the result is important… ‘Not one inch to the East,’ they told us in the 90s. So what? They cheated, just brazenly tricked us! Five waves of NATO expansion and now already, please, the systems are appearing in Romania and Poland.’
‘The future of Donbass should be determined by the people who live in Donbass… It cannot be any other way. We see our role as mediators in creating the best conditions for determining the future of the people who live in this territory.’
On Russia labelling some media as foreign agents:
‘We do not forbid the work of these organisations. We want organisations engaging in Russia’s domestic political activity to clearly and concisely declare the sources of foreign funding for their work.’
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 pre-emptive 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.’
According to a survey conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) in December 2021 and published on 17 December 2021, 50.2 percent of Ukrainians said they would resist in case of a Russian military intervention into their city, town or village.
Every third respondent to the poll, 33.3 percent, said they were ready to engage in armed resistance while 21.7 percent said they were ready to participate in ‘civil resistance actions’.
More than 1,000 Russian troops were involved in firing exercises in five regions on Thursday, while tanks conducted mobile defence drills involving 500 soldiers and Sukhoi Su-27SM3 fighter jets practiced challenging warships.
It came hours after Putin, speaking at his annual end-of-year press conference, accused NATO and the US of planning to deploy hypersonic missiles – which have not yet been successfully developed – to Ukraine.
The Russian strongman blamed NATO’s militarisation of former Soviet states, such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, since the end of the Cold War for the current crisis and threatened that Russia ‘can do anything at any cost’ to protect itself.
Ukrainian reservists attend a military exercise at a training ground near Kiev, Ukraine, 18 December 2021. Tensions with Russia have pushed many Ukrainians to sign up to territorial defence units.
In the Black Sea Sukhoi Su-27SM3 fighter jets stationed in Krasnodar drilled on challenging Western or Ukrainian warships seen as threatening the Russian border, defence sources said.
‘In the course of training flights, Su-27SM3 duos escorted Sukhoi Su-34 fighter bombers and practised airborne duty, detection and following of mock transgressor ships demonstrating an intention to illegal cross the Russian sea border,’ said a fleet statement.
Separately, the sprawling central military district announced a 50 per cent increase in drills for 2022, amounting to almost one every day.
Video shows a batch of five ultra modern MiG-31BM interceptor fighters which were deployed in the district. And in Kemerovo, tanks conducted mobile defence drills involving 500 troops.
Central district commander, Colonel General Alexander Lapin, said: ‘We will continue to build up the combat potential of the district’s troops and maintain it at a level that ensures the military security of Russia and its allies.’