In light of the latest tensions caused by the accumulation of the Russian army and heavy armament on the Ukrainian borders, and in an attempt to present to the Macedonian and world public the views and information from the Ukrainian angle, we requested an interview with the Ambassador of Ukraine, HE Natalia Zadorozhnyuk.
With honest and direct answers, Ambassador Zadorozhnyuk shared information and sharp views on the Russian aggression against Ukraine and threats to the European and world peace.
How real is the threat from Russia? What is happening on the Ukraine-Russia border?
Russia under the authoritarian rule of Vladimir Putin has gone beyond the borders of civilized international relations and therefore it’s behavior is absolutely unpredictable.
The threat of a full invasion by the Russian army has been the main topic of the entire year in Ukraine.
The situation first escalated in April. While Russia claimed that it was simply running military drills, no such number of army troops and equipment around the perimeter of the Ukraine border has been present in recent years.
During this period, problems emerged in Belarus: peaceful demonstrations were brutally quashed by the Lukashenko government; a civilian plane carrying a high-profile journalist known for his critique of the Belarussian government was illegally forced to land in the country, and the journalist was detained; there was sudden rapprochement between Belarus with Russia, pointing to ever-increasing integration between the two; and finally, a migrant crisis took place on the border with Lithuania and Poland. All of these factors have combined as an additional major stress factor that has showed everyone that danger is nearing Ukraine not only from the east or from occupied Crimea, but also from the north.
The second massive redeployment took place this fall. Russia deployed tanks, artillery and air defense systems on the border with Ukraine. Russia has so far concentrated about 122,000 soldiers near the Ukrainian border. On January 11, near the border with Ukraine, Russia started new drills. Russia’s Ministry of Defense plans to carry out drills on polygons in the Voronezh, Belgorod and Bryansk region that border Ukraine, as well as in the Smolensk region. They have sent about 3,000 soldiers and 300 units of military equipment there. On January 11, the Western military district also announced this. In addition, the Ministry announced that units of the Black Sea Fleet, as well as the artillery of the Army Corps of the Southern military district marched on the polygons for combat training that are located in occupied Crimea.
Hence, the threat of a war is real, and real also are the actions of Russia for the destabilization of the internal situation in Ukraine. Putin’s regime itself is creating conflict situations and conflict zones with the purpose of later demanding its participation in their resolution. This trend can be noticed also in the region of the Western Balkans. With the exception of the Russian Federation, all other international actors – Serbia, Kosovo, all countries in the region, the international community – are striving to resolve the Serbian – Kosovo issue. However, it does not suit Russia for the issue of Kosovo to be resolved or for the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina to be stabilized, because resolving these issues will significantly reduce its political role and ability to influence the internal processes in the region. Today, the countries of the region, together with Ukraine, are another place of contention between Russia and the West. The emergence of hybrid troops of the Russian Federation in the region is prevented by the geographical distance and presence of NATO troops in the region, but these factors do not spare them from the emergence of hybrid information and economic (look at the prices of gas and heat in your country) aggression.
How well is Ukraine prepared to stop the invasion?
Ukraine is in a state of war for the eighth year now. We were totally unprepared for this in 2014. The initial plan of Russia was to divide Ukraine in half, to occupy the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, creating a pseudo-state entity “Newrussia”. But even then, when individual units of the Ukrainian army and volunteers swiftly opposed the Russian troops, all that Russia managed to occupy in eastern Ukraine was a relatively small territory, namely, part of the administrative territory of Donets and the Luhansk region. Currently, our armed forces are incomparably stronger. If Russia still does decide to go to war, it will have to count on an extremely large number of Russian soldiers killed, which will not be comparable to 2014. It will be serious bloodshed for both sides.
Russia also understands this. In the spring, when Russia under the excuse of exercises concentrated its forces on the borders with Ukraine, along with other military groups, mobile hospitals were also formed. It’s clear to everyone that no one sets up such mobile hospitals during regular military exercises. This shows that the leadership of the Russian military forces understands well that if there is an order for an attack on Ukraine, that it will be a war on a completely different level.
Additionally, an attack on Ukraine could be a threat to Russia itself. For many years, it has spent millions to zombify its population, to demonize and humiliate Ukraine through propaganda. However, despite this, the Kremlin has still not understood how Russian society would react if an endless stream of coffins with Russian soldiers started to flow from Ukraine.
The Kremlin knows that we have become significantly stronger. No matter how much Russia doesn’t like this, our combat power nevertheless has grown, and our combat potential is increasing. The armed forces of Ukraine are being further equipped.
And the more powerful our armed forces are, the less the chances are for a military operation against Ukraine to be successful. And this, by the way, could be one of the main factors that dissuades Russia, as the cost of the issue will be very high for them. Namely, the number of losses will simply be unreasonably large in case of their invasion of our territory.
In the case of an invasion, Ukraine will be forced to announce a general mobilization. Throughout history, we have shown that for the Ukraine people, our freedom is a fundamental value. The people may dislike the government, the parliament, and they may argue with each other, but at the moment when they need to defend their country and freedom, the Ukraine people are capable of uniting.
Can the West stop a possible Russian invasion on Ukraine?
Primarily, we count on ourselves, and we are strengthening the defense capacities of Ukraine. We have no other choice but to defend our country, our democratic choice. And we are exceptionally thankful to our allies and partners, above all the NATO countries, and hold special gratitude to the United States for their strong and so needed support for us. Today, we and our partners know what we need to do to demotivate Russia from a full attack. Moscow really does need to be aware of the cost of the issue.
The US administration is currently actively working on uniting the transatlantic community before the threat of a new wave of Russian aggression against Ukraine.
President Joe Biden has publicly and directly made it clear to Putin that if Russia decides to start a new escalation against our country, the cost of this decision then would be extremely high, while the economic consequences for Russia would be catastrophic. This is a warning of new powerful sanctions. They could include also sanctions against energy companies, banks, the state debt of Russia and Russian oligarchs, exclusion of Moscow from the SWIFT payment system, and also against the direct accompaniment of the President of the RF, Vladimir Putin. Russia’s false propaganda tells its citizens how bad the West is, how bad it is there, and all their families and relatives live and study in the western countries, while the average Russian person barely makes ends meet. Therefore, sanctions against the family of the president and his friends will be very significant. These are the options that are being indicated. There could be others.
In that direction, we hope that North Macedonia, as a NATO member, EU candidate, participant in the Crimean platform and friend of Ukraine, will join the policy of sanctions against Russia.
And another important aspect in the context of the expected assistance from the West – assistance in building Ukraine’s defense and economic capacities, providing us with efficient assistance, lethal weapons – for us to be able to protect ourselves. We are prepared to buy weapons and ammunition or to jointly produce them. There are no embargoes, legal, political or moral obstacles for this. Ukraine has not attacked anyone and doesn’t plan to attack. Further increasing of Ukraine’s military force, which is already one of the biggest military forces in the region, has a purely defensive character and is an investment in the stability of the entire Baltic-Black Sea area.
Now Ukraine, the US and NATO are working on diplomatic deterring, so that we do not have to go into a radical situation, for which we are all preparing.
For the West, of vital importance, even for its self-preservation (best understood by the countries of the Eastern European group of NATO and the EU) is to stop Russia now, because later it will be much harder, keeping in consideration the experience of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.
What is behind the conflict between Russia and Ukraine? Are there other reasons for Russia’s attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty other than “security” ones?
I would like to emphasize that here there are no and cannot be any security reasons. What security reasons, what security guarantees to Russia if Russia violates all security guarantees to Ukraine? How can they demand “Give us guarantees” if Putin himself has violated all guarantees that Russia has given to Ukraine? We were a neutral country in 2014. And yet, Putin attacked. Let’s talk about security guarantees to Ukraine, if we are talking about some security guarantees. According to the latest polls after Russia’s armed attack and illegal temporary annexation of Crimea, the public support for Ukraine’s accession to NATO reached 60%. What security guarantees are due to Russia, when, I stress, it was Russia, and not NATO, that occupied Crimea? What security guarantees are due to Russia when it is Russian, and not NATO soldiers, that are in the temporary occupied territories of Donbas? Ukraine is already the third, after Moldova and Georgia, subject of more recent military aggression. And these conflicts continue only because Russia is feeding them.
The conflict in Pridnestrovje, the war in Georgia, the war in eastern Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea are part of a larger, systematic phenomenon of the Russian foreign policy – Russian expansionism. The Kremlin solves its foreign and domestic political tasks, of which the most important are strengthening Russia’s sphere of influence and consolidating the Russian society around the idea of a Russian superpower, empire.
They themselves are attacking, provoking, occupying, annexing, killing and at the same time feel danger. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
Russia will continue further to escalate the conflict, because mentally, culturally, historically they live in an empire. We, even though with great difficulties and losses of human lives, came out of that totalitarian system – the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, later from the Baltic countries, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary. But it was much more difficult for us, because the regime simply “stuck” to us. With the loss of Ukraine, the century-old false ideology of Russia is destroyed.
Russia is striving, at the expense of Ukraine, to improve its demographic balance (the Slavic population is dying out and emigrating, the number of other peoples is growing significantly), as well as to attribute the economic and scientific-technical potential of Ukraine to itself. In addition, Russia needs Ukraine as a controlled barrier against the spread of Western values, freedom and democracy in Russia, which endanger Putin’s authoritarian regime.
Without Ukraine – Russia will not be the empire that Putin wants to return to so much. Successful Ukraine – it is an example for the Russians. Successful Ukraine – it is an occasion for the Russians to just think, why are we living so badly, and look at how far Ukraine has gone. There they have democracy, freedom, transparent institutions, visa-free regime with the European Union, and perhaps we can do that, we just need to change the system. And does Putin need that? And hence, a strong, prosperous, democratic Ukraine is a serious threat to Putin’s regime.
Russia invaded parts of Ukraine in 2014 and supported separatists who started a conflict in large parts of the eastern part of the country. What are the prospects of these territories? Is there a plan for freeing the occupied parts of Ukraine? What is the plan?
Crimea and some regions of the Donets and Luhansk regions will definitely return under Ukraine’s control, home. It’s a matter of time. There is no single “recipe” for returning Ukraine’s territories occupied by Russia, but we are striving to solve this problem in a political-diplomatic way.
Ukraine is taking measures to return, through diplomatic channels, the territories occupied by the Russian Federation – Crimea and certain regions of Donetsk and the Luhansk regions.
On September 29, 2021, the Government of Ukraine approved the Action Plan and Strategy for De-occupation and Reintegration of Crimea, which the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky enacted on March 24. The National Strategy for De-occupation and Reintegration of Crimea is the first mandatory fundamental framework document that sets key principles, approaches and directions for the state’s work for liberating the peninsula.
The Action Plan contains 158 items in ten parts – “Protection of human rights and freedoms”, “Legal protection of citizens and legal persons in Ukraine”, “International cooperation”, “Strengthening national stability”, “Defense and security policy”, “Characteristics of the public policy for providing de-occupation of Crimea”, as well as parts on economic, social, humanitarian, environmental and information policies. The authorities will take these measures until Russia leaves the peninsula.
Furthermore, on August 23, 2021, the “Crimea Platform” was created – a key tool for de-occupation and reintegration of Crimea at an international political level, consolidation of international efforts for de-occupation of Crimea. Russia is trying to impose on the world a narrative for the finality of the status of Crimea as part of the Russian Federation. This artificial “new reality” grossly violates the basic principles of international law, but due to the constant use of pressure, lies, blackmail and bribery, Russia is not abandoning efforts to remove the issue of Crimea from world agenda. The Crimea Platform is a protection from this disinformation and strengthens the consolidated position on this, that Crimea is Ukraine.
In this context, we are thankful to the Republic of North Macedonia, which together with the countries of the European Union and NATO, is an official participant in the Crimea Platform. We also appreciate that North Macedonia is not only supporting all Ukraine resolutions on Crimea, but is also their co-author. Specifically, the Resolutions adopted within the UN General Assembly – “Problem of Militarization of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine as well as parts of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov” and the “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine”.
The US and Russia started talks in the UN in Geneva and will continue in Brussels, including the EU and NATO, but Ukraine is not on the table. It is strange, mildly put, to discuss about Ukraine, without including Ukraine. Peace activists protested, criticizing the exclusion of Ukraine from the talks. What is the official position of the Ukraine government in terms of this issue?
This is not so. Russia addressed the US with a request for starting bilateral talks on a series of issues, without the participation of third parties – Ukraine, NATO, EU. And these talks do not only refer to Ukraine. The EU too as an institution “is not happy” for being excluded from the direct dialogue. The Head of the EU diplomacy, J. Borrell, said: “Of course we cannot force anyone to sit at the negotiating table. However, I am in constant contact with the US, and the US has assured me that nothing will be discussed without clear coordination with the Europeans and without participation of the Europeans”. The positions of Kiev and Brussels are identical.
Surely, critical decisions for a country that have direct impact on determining its future have to be made with consultation and prior consent of that country. In this respect, Ukraine has no reasons to accuse the West – not once in recent years, neither the EU, nor the US have violated this principle. And now, when negotiations have started with the RF, Joe Biden has additionally publicly promised that he would be guided by this rule.
We heard some clear signals from the United States. First: nothing for Ukraine will be resolved without Ukraine. Second: the relations between Ukraine and NATO are solely a matter of our country and the member states of the alliance. Third: The United States is ready for a dialogue, but the security of Europe cannot be resolved without Europe. Namely, we hear from the US administration very clear messages of support for Ukraine.
Before the NATO– Russia Council meeting (January 12), on January 10, a session of the Ukraine – NATO Commission was held in Brussels, with the participation of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, Olga Stefanishyna. The representative of Ukraine’s government was invited to additionally reassure Kiev that talks are not being made behind Ukraine’s back, and also to hear its opinions on NATO’s consultations with Russia.
In addition, on January 12-13, a session of NATO Military Committees is scheduled, where chiefs of defense of Ukraine and Georgia are also invited. The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valeriy Zaluzhny will particpate from Kiev.
Hence, there are three key formats in which the Western countries talk about the Russian military threat to Ukraine and Europe, but without the participation of Russia. These are actually the NATO format (for example, the meetings of January 7th and 10th), NATO-Ukraine (including also the format of the NATO-Ukraine Commission on January 10) and the important US format – the “Bucharest Nine”. It concerns nine countries from the eastern wing of NATO that joined the Alliance in 1990: Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.
Additionally, I would like to add the official comment of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, on the meeting of the US and Russian delegation in Geneva: “The Russian Federation started the negotiations for the so-called “security guarantees” to maximally raise the stakes, by setting unacceptable demands in advance. The cynicism of the situation is in that the RF demands security guarantees at a time when its army of more than 100,000 is waving weapons near the Ukraine border, is keeping hostage Crimea and is fighting in Donbas, Russian special services are undermining the security on the borders between Belarus and Poland and Lithuania, gas supply is becoming a tool of foreign policy. Russia has no right to vote for Ukraine’s membership in NATO. This is a red line that neither Ukraine nor our partners will cross. “There are no agreements for Ukraine without Ukraine”. And that is precisely the signal the Russians heard in Geneva. The US will not approve any decisions for Ukraine without Ukraine, for Europe without Europe, for NATO without NATO. The unity of the collective West is shattering the hopes of Russia for reaching an agreement with the Americans for bypassing its other partners. The security of the Euro-Atlantic space is impossible as long as Ukraine is in danger”.
Do you have a message for the end?
At the end, I would like to thank your editorial office for the desire to objectively cover the events, to convey to the public the real situation, by referring to primary sources, as recently we have been noticing the emergence of material of many experts, analysts who “supposedly” deal with analyzing Ukraine, the Ukraine-Russian relations, while in reality take information only from Russian sources, known for their deliberate twisting of information, and with the same convey messages of the Russian propaganda. We appeal to the respected experts to convey not only what the Russian propaganda writes, but to use, if not Ukrainian, then at least serious material in English. The Embassy of Ukraine, on the other hand, is always open to the press and is ready to provide full information on any issue.
Translation: N. Cvetkovska
Proofreading: H. Roberson Gaston