ByRoland Oliphant. 9 December 2021 •
Vladimir Putin will be emboldened to invade Ukraine if European Union countries don’t sign up to a package of sanctions to deter Russia, Ukraine’s country’s foreign minister has warned.
Dmytro Kuleba told the Telegraph that Mr Putin’s goal was to “destroy Ukraine” and that he would be more tempted to resort to military action if Western allies do not quickly find agreement on punitive measures.
In a warning against a possible repeat of Russia’s shooting down of Malaysian airlines flight MH17 over Donbas, he said: “The point that I’m making, and I made it to some of my colleagues from the European Union: I did not want you to find yourself in a situation similar to 2014, when pictures of dead bodies and of heinous crimes leave you no choice.”
“What I’m saying is that if the West does not show unanimity now, Putin will be more tempted to resort to war,” he added.
Joe Biden this week told Mr Putin to expect “strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation”. Britain backs the plans. But Mr Kuleba said key European allies were hesitating in signing up to a unified approach.
“One of the goals that the Biden administration and the UK government set for themselves is to ensure transatlantic unity in action against Putin.
“That implies that until the European Union and its key capitals align themselves with a certain line of action, it would be premature to go into specifics,” he said, commenting on the refusal of Western governments to publicly specify actions they would take.
Russia has massed around 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine in what Western and Ukrainian governments say resembles preparations for a full-scale invasion. The Kremlin has denied planning an attack, but has simultaneously signalled that it will go to war unless the West and Ukraine concede a list of demands.
Mr Putin told Mr Biden during a video call on Tuesday that Russia wanted guarantees that Nato would not expand further east or deploy weapons systems in countries neighbouring Russia.
Lizz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, on Wednesday warned of “huge costs” if the invasion goes forward but did not give details.
Jake Sullivan, Mr Biden’s national security advisor, said the measures would include things “we were not prepared to do in 2014” when Russia annexed Crimea and began a war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
Possible sanctions on the table are believed to include cutting Russia off from the SWIFT system for international financial transactions, targeting Russian state banks, and going after Russian state debt.
US officials said on Wednesday that they had an understanding with Germany to cancel the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine.
Mr Kuleba said he believed never-before-seen sanctions were on the table but declined to say which measures Europeans were hesitant about.
But he also warned that the West must be careful about how the discussion of sanctions is framed in case it effectively rewards Russia for aggression.
“When I hear messages saying Nord Stream two will be stopped if Russia attacks Ukraine. I’m like, whoa, whoa, hold your horses,” he said.
“’Let’s give them bloody Nord Stream two and they will not attack you’ – this is exactly not the scenario that we should fall into,” he said.
Mr Biden phoned the president of Ukraine on Thursday ahead of calls to nine eastern European Nato allies, promising support if Russia attacks Ukraine.
Russia’s military escorted five French and US military aircraft over the Black Sea and away from its border on Thursday, it said
Asked if Moscow had a plan of how to respond to new potential sanctions, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said on Thursday that Russia “will do everything to stand up for its own interests.”
Sergey Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, lamented on Thursday that the United States “has nothing left in its foreign policy toolbox other than blackmail, threats and sanctions.”
“This is not the language we’re susceptible to,” he said.
Mr Kuleba said the Western response was stronger than during a previous invasion scare in Spring and infinitely more unified than when Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014, and praised Germany and France for issuing uncharacteristically strong statements condemning Russian actions in recent weeks.
He denied that Kyiv had been cut out of talks after Mr Biden said he would consult with Nato allies about Vladimir Putin’s complaints about Nato expansion and ruled out taking military action against Russia in the event of an invasion.
“We do not feel abandoned or uninformed. We are pretty much in the loop,” Mr Kuleba said.
“It will be Ukrainians who will be fighting for Ukraine, and we are absolutely fine with it. We know how to defend our country. We’re willing to defend our country and we will do it.
The US president was due to brief Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, on Thursday.
General Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, told the New York Times on Thursday that Ukraine could not repel a full scale attack by Russia without the support of Western forces.
Mr Kuleba said Ukraine was instead asking allies for a three-stage deterrence package designed to persuade the Kremlin the costs of invasion are unacceptable, including political support; economic sanctions, and military kit that would help Ukraine’s army inflict heavier casualties on the invaders.
He said Ukraine was reaching out to partners for high-level intelligence sharing and supplies of air-defence and anti-missile systems, which he described as an area where Russia currently has a key advantage.
He declined to specify which countries Ukraine had asked for such systems or whether deliveries had been agreed.
Vicky Ford, a foreign office minister, told the House of Commons on Tuesday that Britain was considering extending “purely defensive” assistance to Ukraine, but did not give details.
Mr Kuleba said Ukraine still stands by the 2015 Minsk agreement, despite a deadlock with Moscow over its implementation, and believes if there is will in Russia to resolve the conflict in Donbas progress could be made.
But he said the demands Moscow has so far laid out are either unacceptable or misleading.
“So far what we see is Russia taking a line that is aimed at deconstructing efforts to bring peace to Ukraine.
“So they’re saying ‘we want Minsk to be implemented,’ but the line they take, and the priorities they make, are aimed at a completely different goal – to ignite the conflict to basically keep things as they are.
“When it comes to NATO and integration, Russia seems to be more confident that Ukraine will become a member of NATO than some members of NATO. Which is striking in itself. It’s a made up excuse. It’s not a real grievance.”
Mr Putin’s true goal, he said, was to “destroy Ukraine.”
“His initial goal in 2014 was to cut the country in half, establish a puppet state called Novorossia, and basically form a new reality in Europe demonstrating that borders can be changed by force. He did not achieve that. But it doesn’t mean he abandoned the plan.”
Fears that the crisis could escalate heightened when Russia’s security agency said a Ukrainian warship was heading towards the Kerch Strait, a disputed seaway between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
According to Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB) the Ukrainian Navy command ship, the Donbas, had ignored instructions to reverse course.
The strait has been under Russian control since it was annexed in 2014.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden, who spoke to the Bucharest Nine, a group of countries on the eastern edge of NATO, promised “additional military capabilities” would be deployed in the region – although he ruled out
sending forces to Ukraine.
The US president also held a 90-minute conversation with his Ukraine counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, who issued a statement on Twitter thanking Mr Biden for his support.