As pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine ignored the provisions of a cease-fire agreement requiring them to abandon their occupation of government buildings on Sunday, the country’s acting prime minister appeared in a taped television interview and admitted that the country’s military and security apparatus could not defend the country against a Russian incursion.
“How can you stop the…Russian Federation, which spent billions of dollars to modernize their military?” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk asked host David Gregory on NBC’s Meet the Press.
He contrasted the state of Russia’s military – some 40,000 members of which are currently massed along Russia’s border with Ukraine – with the depleted state of his own country’s. Yatsenyuk blamed the corrupt government of Russia-aligned former President Viktor Yanukovych for allowing the Ukrainian military and security services to decline.
“In the last four years, the former president, together with the Russian supporters…dismantled Ukrainian military and security forces,” Yatsenyuk said. “We need to be in a very good shape in order to stop Russia. And for this shape we need to get real support from our western partners.”
Despite multiple attempts by Gregory to do so, Yatsenyuk refused to be led into asking specifically for weaponry – the sort of aid that would be freighted with far more political significance than the non-lethal support that has been provided so far. However, it was hard to read Yatsenyuk’s request as not including modern weapons.
“We need a strong and solid state. We need financial and economic support. We need to overhaul the Ukrainian military,” he repeated. “We need to modernize our security and military forces. We need real support.”
Yatsenyuk argued that Russia under President Vladimir Putin is a threat not just to Ukraine, but also to global stability in general. Russia last month annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula under the guise of protecting ethnic Russians living there from political violence – violence that now appears to have been supported or even instigated by Russian soldiers and agents.
“Russia triggered this violence. Russia supported these terrorists,” said Yatsenyuk.
“President Putin has a dream to restore the Soviet Union and every day he goes further and further and God knows where is the final destination,” he continued.
Yatsenyuk ridiculed Russian demands that Ukraine rewrite its constitution to allow more autonomy for Eastern provinces that have large ethnic Russian populations. He compared it to Ukraine demanding that Russia declare Ukrainian an official language and grant special rights to ethnic Ukrainians, a large number of whom live in Russia.
Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, appeared on Fox News Sunday earlier in the morning, before the entire interview with Yatsenyuk was aired. But he was shown the segment in which the Ukrainian claimed that Putin’s goal is to restore the old Soviet Union. Host Chris Wallace also reminded him that Putin had referred to Ukraine as “Novo Rossiya,” or “New Russia,” in public remarks last week.
The idea that Putin wants to restore the old Soviet Union “is a false notion in its very nature,” he said. “The allusions to the history of relations between Russia and Ukraine was just to show that we are so intertwined.”
Kislyak said that Russia supported the cease-fire agreement that was reached in Geneva last week. But when it was pointed out that armed pro-Russian separatists who have taken over government facilities in several cities in eastern Ukraine were not disarming and leaving the buildings as it required, he appeared to blame the Ukrainian government.
Kislyak said that the separatists could not expected to disarm when, he claimed, “far right” Ukrainian nationalist groups in Kiev have not been forced to do the same.
Saying that all Russia wants is to have “a friendly neighbor” in Ukraine, Kislyak did not bother hiding his disdain for those currently running the country.
“Unless the Ukrainian government or temporary government or whatever they call themselves and the regions of Ukraine talk to each other, agree on things, agree on what country they want to live in – that certainly would include expanded authorities of the regional government – unless they do so in a fateful way there will be no solution to the crisis,” he said.
Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, Geoffrey Pyatt, US ambassador to Ukraine, said that his conversations with Ukrainian citizens has convinced him that except for a small percentage of the population, the people of Ukraine “are not interested in war” and only “want to be their own country.
Should it come to war, he said, Ukraine has no good options.
“Militarily, as Crimea indicated, Ukraine is outgunned,” said Pyatt. “There is no military solution to this crisis. It has to be solved through diplomacy”
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times