Ukraine’s foreign minister on Tuesday said that amid ongoing tensions with Russia, “only painful economic sanctions can make a difference.”
Ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual address to his country’s Federal Assembly, Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba responded virtually to the questions of foreign media representatives.
“Ukraine … does not seek any war or escalation. We are devoted to searching for diplomatic and political means of resolving the Russian-Ukrainian seven-year conflict,” Kuleba said.
He further stressed that Ukraine is “not planning any military offensive, escalation or propaganda” to resolve the conflict in Donbas.
There has been a recent spike in violence in Donbas, where Kyiv’s troops have battled separatist forces since 2014.
With Russia having “illegally occupied” Ukrainian Crimea and territories in the east of the country, anything can be expected of Moscow, Kuleba said, adding: “We cannot know for sure whether Moscow will decide to begin a new stage of aggression against Ukraine.”
The Ukrainian minister said they expected Russia to “cause another wave of escalation on the ground” as Ukraine observes the “strategic, military preparations of the Russian Federation.”
“It is now in the hands of Ukraine and all those who stand for the respect for international law and sovereignty in Europe to demotivate Putin from making further aggressive steps,” he added.
He also mentioned “three major steps” for Ukraine’s partners to take in efforts to deter Russia from further increasing tensions. First, he urged them to be “vocal in support of Ukraine, not only in communications but even more importantly, in their direct bilateral communications with Russia.”
“I hope our friends and partners understand that it is way more effective to clearly make Moscow understand that a new stage of aggression will have dire consequences for Russia: international isolation and painful economic sanctions,” Kuleba added as second step.
Finally, “the third step, we ask partners to discuss internally, how they could help Ukraine defend itself in the worst-case scenario. This includes deepening security and defense cooperation with Ukraine.”
On the Russian president’s upcoming address, Kuleba warned about “misleading narratives” regarding Ukraine and said: “Once again, he might try to present Russia as a besieged fortress, surrounded by NATO and enemies.”
“We are a country that has one of the longest borders with Russia. We do not have NATO troops in Ukraine, but we do have over hundreds of thousands of Russian troops at our border,” he added.
Russia undertakes deliberate escalation in Black Sea
In response to a question on massing Russian forces in the Black Sea, Kuleba said the military buildup in Crimea, as well as the stationing of Iskander missiles there and naval exercises in nearby areas “effectively hindering trade routes” were “complicating the security situation in the Black Sea.”
“When you put all these elements together, you can clearly come to a conclusion from both military, security and political perspective that Russia undertakes a deliberate escalation of the situation in the Black Sea region,” he said.
In recent weeks, Russia has gathered combat-ready forces close to the Ukrainian border which is considered “the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014,” according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Russian forces entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in February 2014, with Putin formally dividing the region into two separate federal subjects of the Russian Federation the following month.
Turkey and the US, as well as the UN General Assembly, view the annexation as illegal, as does the EU, which imposed sanctions on Russia for the seizure.
Referring to his recent meeting with European officials, Kuleba said that he urged his European colleagues to consider new sanctions on Russia “because Russia is afraid of economic sanctions.”
He also mentioned that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had requested a call with Putin recently, but no response was received from Moscow.
On possible support from the US administration, Kuleba said it all depends on “further development, the behavior of Russia.”