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After U.S. intelligence revealed that Russia may be preparing for a full-on invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Oleksiy Reznikov told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview that the 7-year-long military conflict is even more dangerous today than it was in April of this year, when Moscow deployed up to 150,000 troops along the Ukrainian border.
“The West did not react in time,” the minister said on Monday, adding that it’s now clear that the Kremlin has been plotting an offensive on Ukraine for months. “Russia has de facto annexed Belarus, which adds more than 1,000 km along the border that we have to defend.”
Up until now, Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko has tried to maintain a somewhat neutral position on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Just a few months ago, Lukashenko claimed he would recognize Crimea as Russian territory only “when the last Russian oligarch delivers goods” to the peninsula, referring to the Russian elite’s reluctance to invest in Crimea for fear of getting sanctioned. But now, with Lukashenko fuming over Western sanctions and reliant on the Kremlin’s support, “Minsk is serving as Moscow’s proxy and is used for actions that Russia cannot do with its own hands,” Reznikov told The Daily Beast.
On Saturday, Ukrainians woke up to a flurry of chilling headlines after The Washington Post reported that Russia may be gearing up to attack Ukraine in a matter of months, based on information gathered from a U.S. intelligence analysis. The plan reportedly involves the deployment of over 175,000 Russian troops. All the while, Russian officials have reportedly been pressuring the U.S. into guaranteeing that Ukraine will be blocked from joining NATO.
In other words, the message to America and its allies is clear: Mind your own business, and stay out of it.
According to Reznikov, it gets worse. Not only are there more Russian soldiers on the border than there were in April, but the fact that Ukraine, Poland, and three other Baltic states are now “surrounded” with Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipelines presents its own fresh set of challenges to Ukraine’s resistance efforts.
“The direct gas pipeline to Germany sharply increases military threats to the four NATO states and also to Ukraine. Russia now has the potential to destabilize [their gas supplies] and in doing so, block a strong reaction from Europe,” the minister said. “We saw what that can look like: the Kremlin carried out a hybrid attack on Poland and Lithuania with the help of migrants,” he added, referring to the recent border crisis at the Poland-Belarus border.
The minister warned that in the case of a Russian invasion, millions of Ukrainian refugees would flood the European Union. “The sudden appearance of 3-5 million refugees from Ukraine would be just one of many serious problems that the European society would have to deal with,” he said.
“We are already dealing with several wars at the same time: a political conflict between President Zelensky and oligarch [Rinat] Akhmetov, economic crises and a COVID-19 pandemic,” editor-in-chief of Ukrainskaya Pravda, Sevgil Musaieva told The Daily Beast on Monday. “A war would be a disaster, but we hope that Moscow is just crying wolf again to put pressure on the West.”
Reznikov expressed concerns that the flow of migrants coming from Belarus could also be redirected from the Polish border to its border with Ukraine, where Ukrainian military forces have been preparing to defend a 1,500-mile-long stretch of land for weeks.
Putin and Biden are expected to speak in a video conference summit on Tuesday, but it’s already clear that Moscow does not expect any miracle peace deal between the two presidents. “It's very difficult to expect any breakthroughs from any conversations. We have such huge Augean stables in our bilateral relations now that it is hardly possible to clear them out like this in a few hours of conversation,” the Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.
Ukrainian analysts are struggling to assess the legitimacy of Moscow’s invasion plans. “Things look much worse than in April. Since the summer we’ve been reading about Russia recruiting more soldiers online, building field hospitals, kitchens for the war time, and of course about Russian-Ukrainian joint troops,” Ivan Yakovyna, a Kyiv-based analyst at Novoye Vremya magazine, told The Daily Beast on Monday.
A popular television presenter, Yevgeny Kisilev, believes that the current threat of war is real. “There has been a shift in Russian power towards the war hawks. They have won the parliamentary elections, so they want to fight now,” Kisilev, who reports for the Ukraine-24 TV network, told The Daily Beast.
At this point, Reznikov does not believe that any kind of diplomatic agreement will keep Moscow at bay.
“Ukraine already signed the Budapest Memorandum once and gave away the world's third-biggest nuclear arsenal in exchange for what we considered ‘guarantees.’ After some time, one of the guarantor countries, the Russian Federation, violated all agreements and attacked us, occupying part of our territories. Tens of thousands of our people have already died. We don't really believe in any paper deals," he told The Daily Beast.
The minister went on: “The guarantee would be the West’s practical steps towards strengthening Ukraine's defense capability and our army. So that the price of a possible escalation would become unacceptable for the Kremlin’s military plans, and also, a clear preventive signal to Russia that the escalation of the war would destroy Russia economically. Only such an approach would be a guarantee.”
The stark contrast between the positions of Washington and Moscow was laid bare last week when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Washington would “impose severe costs and consequences” in response to any Russian escalation. Lavrov responded by saying that NATO was “playing with fire.”
“The situation is dangerous,” pro-Kremlin analyst Yuriy Krupnov told The Daily Beast. “Since the absolute mistrust between Russia and the West makes the future completely uncertain.”