Make or break time for Ukraine, says Chargé

Protests in London over Russian actions in Ukraine

Ukraine is fighting against “a strong and vile aggressor” the country’s Chargé d’Affaires told Embassy on the occasion of his country’s anniversary of Independence.

Appealing to the international community to help end the conflict in East Ukraine, Andrii Kuzmenko said: “A fully-fledged war is raging in my country. We are fighting for our land against a strong and vile aggressor. If [we lose], Europe would have to answer the difficult question – who’s next?”

The Acting Ambassador had been hopeful ahead of talks in Minsk that “intensive dialogue” between Ukraine’s President Petro Proshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders could de-escalate the conflict in East Ukraine and save the lives of Ukrainian soldiers and local people affected.

“We believe that even difficult negotiations are much better than fighting,” he said.

But hostilities intensified in East Ukraine in the days after President Poroshenko announced a “roadmap” to a ceasefire.

Accusing Russia of “exporting terrorism” to Ukraine, Kuzemenko said: “If Moscow stops sending mercenaries along with heavy weapons to the Eastern Ukraine it would take a couple of weeks to settle the conflict.”
President Putin said Russia would support a ceasefire but that a truce needed to be worked out with separatist leaders.

No talks with “terrorists”

Kuzmenko said Kiev had ruled out talks with separatists whom it regards as terrorists. “The gunmen who are killing, kidnapping, torturing other people, blowing planes, including Malaysian MH17, out of the sky, shelling cities and levelling entire villages with their artillery and Grad rocket launchers are not ‘separatists’. They are terrorists. We do not negotiate with terrorists.”

He added that talks with the rebels would be “absolutely pointless” because “they obtain their instructions from Moscow.”

Heavy price for weak response

President Poroshenko will visit Brussels on 30 August and will participate in the NATO Summit in Wales in September where he will push for Russia to “pay a heavy price” if it continues to support the insurgency in East Ukraine.

Kuzmenko said “disproportionately weak sanctions” at the start of the crisis had been interpreted by the Kremlin as “a green light to invade Ukraine” adding that his country and the victims of the Malaysian flight MH17 had paid a “horrible price” for the failure of the international community to stop what Ukraine and many in the West consider to be Russian aggression.

But Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations of sponsoring the separatists instead accusing Kiev of “cleansing” East Ukraine of its Russian-speaking minority.

With the civilian death toll mounting in East Ukraine, Kuzmenko was asked what measures was the Ukraine defence force taking to protect civilians.

Kuzemenko said “every single life” of their compatriots was “priceless” and that safe passages had been created to allow civilians to escape. He added that the authorities were also delivering “real humanitarian aid”.

Envoys warn of ‘Cold War lite’

In an Embassy summer survey on the situation in Ukraine, London diplomats worried that growing tensions between Russia and the West were leading to a ‘Cold War lite’.

They said tensions had not yet affected Russia’s engagement with the West in international diplomatic efforts in Syria, Iraq and Iran, but rising tensions could reduce cooperation.

The motivation behind Russia’s actions lay in “resurgent nationalism” said one envoy, suggesting that a way forward would be to “re-assert Ukrainian sovereignty in a way that is sensitive to the interests of Russia”. He added that the Ukrainian government needed to “accommodate minorities” in the East.

Without de-escalation, the risk was increasing that East Ukraine could lapse into a post-soviet ‘Frozen Conflict’ said envoys.

Kuzmenko said this would be detrimental to European security if East Ukraine was added to the long list of protracted conflicts.