Ukraine security chief: Minsk peace deal may create chaos

The Associated Press
Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of National Security and Defense Council, speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Kyiv, Ukraine, Jan. 31.

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s security chief warned the West on Monday against forcing the country to fulfill a peace deal for eastern Ukraine brokered by France and Germany, charging that an attempt to implement it could trigger internal unrest that would benefit Moscow.

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told The Associated Press that Ukraine has the capability to call up to 2.5 million people if Russia invades.

He said that about 120,000 Russian troops are concentrated near Ukraine and Moscow may stage provocations “at any moment,” but argued that launching a full-fledged invasion would require massive preparations that would be easily spotted.

“The preparatory period that will be noticed by the entire world could take from three to seven days,” Danilov said. “We aren’t seeing it yet. We clearly understand what’s going on and we are calmly preparing for it.”

He deplored the decision by the U.S., Britain, Australia, Germany and Canada to withdraw some of their diplomats and dependents from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, saying the move “wasn’t pleasant for us” and empasizing that “we don’t think that there is a threat right now.”

U.S. President Joe Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a call Thursday that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could invade the country in February. But the Ukrainian leader played down the war fears, arguing Friday that the Russian troop buildup could be part of Moscow’s attempts to exert “psychological pressure” and sow panic.

“We can’t allow panic in the country,” Danilov told the AP. “It’s very difficult for us to maintain control over the economic situation when all the media keep saying that the war will start tomorrow. Panic is a sister of defeat.”

Danilov said that Ukraine has the potential to quickly and dramatically beef up its 250,000-strong military in case of a Russian offensive.

“They will face a response from our society, our citizens, our military,” Danilov told the AP. “We can put 2 (million) to 2.5 million people under arms.”

He noted that up to 420,000 Ukrainians have gained combat experience in fighting with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and up to 1 million in the nation of 41 million people have hunting licenses.

Danilov pointed at the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s announcement Monday that it had thwarted a plot to stage riots in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes to achieve his goal of destroying Ukraine through internal destabilization even without an invasion.

“Regrettably, we have many agents of influence of the Russian Federation here, who are behind the plans of destabilizing our country from within,” he said pointing at a pro-Russian party that has a sizeable presence in Ukraine’s parliament.

After the 2014 ouster of a Kremlin-friendly president in Kyiv, Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed an insurgency in the country’s eastern industrial heartland. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels has killed over 14,000 people, and efforts to reach a settlement there have stalled.

Since the start of the separatist conflict in Ukraine, Russia has been accused of sending troops and weapons to the separatists, something it has denied. It has given out over 700,000 Russian passports to people living in rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine.

“I have a question: Why the West is not reacting to that?” Danilov said.

He argued that Ukraine needs to revise the 2015 peace deal signed in Minsk that requires Ukraine to provide a broad autonomy to the rebel-held east and a sweeping amnesty to the rebels.

“The fulfillment of the Minsk agreement means the country’s destruction,” Danilov said. “When they were signed under the Russian gun barrel — and the German and the French watched — it was already clear for all rational people that it’s impossible to implement those documents.”

The agreement, which was brokered by France and Germany after a string of Ukrainian military defeats, was widely abhorred by the Ukrainian public as a betrayal of their national interests. Zelenskyy and his officials have made repeated calls for its modification.

Moscow has staunchly refused to amend the Minsk agreement and criticized Ukraine’s Western allies for failing to encourage Ukraine to fulfill its obligations.

Envoys from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany met Wednesday for more than eight hours in Paris to discuss ways to implement the Minsk agreement. They made no visible progress but agreed to meet again in two weeks in Berlin.

Danilov warned the West against pressuring Ukraine into fulfilling the Minsk deal, saying it would provoke dangerous instability.

“If they insist on the fulfillment of the Minsk agreements as they are it will be very dangerous for our country,” he said. “If the society doesn’t accept those agreements, it could lead to a very difficult internal situation and Russia counts on that.”

He also argued that if Ukraine honors the deal it, that will allow Russia to demand the lifting of Western sanctions that were contingent on progress in implemeting the Minsk agreement.

Danilov called for negotiating a new document that could be realistically implemented, adding that it should force “Putin to simply pull his troops and tanks back.”

He denounced the Russian demands for NATO to bar Ukraine from ever joining the alliance, saying that the country, a former Soviet republic, has made a choice to seek to integrate into NATO and the European Union, which is reflected in its constitution. It is not a member of either bloc at this time.

“No one has the right to dictate to us whether we should or shouldn’t join alliances,” Danilov said. “It’s our people’s sovereign right.”

He also noted that Ukraine needs more Western weapons, saying “it’s our only request to our partners — give us more weapons to defend ourselves.”

He criticized Germany for refusing to provide Ukraine with weapons, charging that Berlin has also failed to properly apologize to Ukrainians for Nazi crimes during World War II when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union.

“Regrettably, they haven’t apologized for killing millions of our citizens,” he said. “They apologize to the Russians as if we were one country. They shouldn’t talk about democracy then and say that they support authoritarian regimes and partner with them.”