Ukraine warns West: Don’t fall into Putin’s NATO trap

KYIV — The West is mistaken if it thinks finding a compromise on Ukraine’s potential NATO membership will end Russia’s aggression against the country, a top Ukrainian government security official said Friday.

In an interview with POLITICO, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s objections to Ukraine one day joining the alliance were not the underlying cause of the current crisis, sparked by the deployment of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s borders.

“Putin is telling us that he wants to destroy us, and that’s his major task. He stresses this every time,” Danilov said.

NATO stated in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia would join the alliance — without specifying any date — and Ukraine’s constitution declares that the country aims to join both NATO and the EU.

However, in recent days, some Western leaders such as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have sought to play down the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine, making clear it is not on the agenda in the foreseeable future.

On a visit to Kyiv on Monday, Scholz said at a press conference with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that it was “practically not on the agenda.” Zelenskiy appeared to strike a similar tone by describing his country’s desire to join NATO as a remote “dream” and suggested Kyiv could instead receive “guarantees” to ensure its sovereignty in the meantime.

Danilov indicated that Zelenskiy might lay out more details about such guarantees at the Munich Security Conference, where he is scheduled to speak on Saturday.

“I guess that while at the Munich Security Conference, he might make some statements regarding these security guarantees,” Danilov said, adding: “We have to understand who could provide such guarantees today: What countries, what alliances, and how would those guarantees be laid out legally?”

But he also warned that it was “incorrect” to believe that “Putin would be satisfied if Ukraine put its ambitions back.”

He argued that the Russian leader would continue seeking to cripple Ukraine, either by launching a full-scale invasion or by further fueling an armed conflict between Ukraine’s military and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.

That conflict heated up Thursday, when artillery shells were fired at a village in the Luhansk region, hitting a kindergarten and injuring three people. Kyiv blamed Moscow and the separatists for that escalation.

Danilov spoke before reports emerged of further dramatic developments in the east on Friday — separatist leaders ordering evacuations of civilians from their region and a vehicle exploding in the city of Donetsk.

The United States and NATO have repeatedly warned that Moscow will seek to manufacture a reason for a new attack on Ukraine. Russia, for its part, has insisted it does not intend to invade.

Danilov recalled that Ukraine had a bad experience with security guarantees in the past, having in the 1990s given up all the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union in exchange for promises by the U.S., Russia and Britain to respect its independence and sovereignty.

This commitment was blatantly violated by Russia when it annexed Crimea in 2014 and started to support separatists in eastern Ukraine, Danilov noted.

“For eight years [Russia] has been waging war with our nation. And the world is watching this quite calmly,” Danilov said.

Blast at Berlin

While he thanked countries like the U.S., U.K., Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states for supporting Ukraine’s army with weapons, he lashed out at Germany’s refusal to deliver defensive arms.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock reiterated that position on Friday in a speech at the Munich Security Conference, citing the country’s World War II past. But Danilov said Berlin was forgetting other obligations stemming from its history.

“We asked Germany for help, repeatedly, and unfortunately we received a refusal every time. Germany has a very short memory,” Danilov said, citing the Babyn Yar massacre in 1941, in which German forces killed some 35,000 Jews. He suggested this implied Germany now had a responsibility to help Ukraine defend itself.

Danilov also rejected Scholz’s assertion on Monday that he had agreed with Zelenskiy that the Ukrainian government would present “the relevant draft laws that we need for the continuation of the Minsk process,” a yet-to-be-implemented agreement to establish peace in the east.

Berlin has suggested that Kyiv could unblock the implementation of the accord by preparing legislative proposals to give the disputed territories in eastern Ukraine a special status, allow for elections there and make broader constitutional changes required under the peace deal.

Danilov, however, fell back on a longstanding Ukrainian position, arguing that Moscow had to move first. “It’s the Russian Federation that has to start implementing,” he said. “They don’t fulfill the Minsk agreement.”

He added that it was impossible for Kyiv to even take preparatory steps for elections, such as sending officials to the territories that are held by the separatists. “They would have to reach this territory, but they cannot do this because there are people with weapons, and Russia provides weapons to those people, and gives them salaries, and Mr. Scholz knows this clearly enough,” he said.

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