Ukraine president fears wider war with Russia as troops deploy near border
“All-out war would be the biggest blunder on Russia’s part,” he said. “It’s a spooky scenario but unfortunately it isn’t unlikely. The danger is reaching a point of no-return.”
An undeclared war between the former Soviet states since 2014 over the seizure of Crimea and the Donbas region, on the Russian border, has meant Ukraine continues to fight Russian-backed separatists, leaving around 14,000 people dead.
Russia deployed an estimated 100,000 troops to Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders earlier this year.
Zelensky said he would like “more time” to understand Russian President Vladimir Putin and that he was committed to developing a “constructive discussion, more substantive conversation” with Russia. The Ukrainian leader told the conference he has tried unsuccessfully to meet Putin to discuss the Donbas conflict and he questioned Putin’s commitment to establishing peace.
The two presidents first met in Paris in December 2019 for peace talks.
“It seems to me that today… they do not see the sense in resolving issues. End the war and resolve conflict issues quickly, they don’t want this,” he told the event in Kiev.
Russia denies any involvement in the fighting in Ukraine, despite the evidence of Russian fighters and weapons crossing the border.
Putin appears to think of Ukraine as not a fully sovereign state, as explained in an essay called “Russian-Ukrainian Unity” published in July.
Zelensky said the comments were disrespectful. “If you respect people, they respect you back,” the comedian turned president said. He said thoughtful Russians recognised Ukraine as an independent state while the Kremlin’s propaganda had misled “more average citizens”.
“Russian media policy is now predicated on disrespecting Ukrainian independence. Unfortunately, it does break down the average person,” Zelensky said. “It’s dangerous because we have no option but to live as neighbours.”
Western relations with Russia and Belarus are particularly tense since the start of the vast joint Zapad-2021 exercises this week near Ukrainian territory.
Nato has warned that the Zapad (meaning “west”) exercises, when combined with the huge Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border this year, risks an accident or misunderstanding which could spark a crisis.
Russian Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov said Zapad is a purely defensive drill, allowing Russia and Belarus to improve their military cooperation.
The exercise finishes on September 16.
Ukraine fears further Russian expansion into its territory. Picture credit: Wikimedia