Ceasefire with Russia is a “fantasy,” says senior Ukrainian military official

Posted on : 2023-02-01 16:57 KST Modified on : 2023-02-01 21:55 KST
“If we want to survive, we have to give up the fantasy of finding peace through a ceasefire,” the official said.
A Leopard 2 battle tank fires during a drill in Germany’s Ostenholz in 2022. Germany has agreed to send 14 of these tanks to Ukraine. (AFP/Yonhap)
A Leopard 2 battle tank fires during a drill in Germany’s Ostenholz in 2022. Germany has agreed to send 14 of these tanks to Ukraine. (AFP/Yonhap)

※ Editor’s note: The Hankyoreh recently met with people ranging from ordinary citizens to high-ranking government authorities in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, which remains at war with Russia. Today we present one of the interviews that left the greatest impression on us. This official has been working in Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces since the war began last year. The official comes from an academic background and has worked in politics for almost 30 years, with experience across a number of major public posts. However, they have requested anonymity due to the domestic political situation and the nature of the work they are currently involved in. As we approach the one-year mark of the war, Russia and Ukraine remain locked in a fierce confrontation. This is a candid discussion that may help readers understand how Ukraine views the war.

On Jan. 25 (local time), the US and German governments announced plans to provide Ukraine with their main tanks, the Abrams and Leopard 2. This move marks a surprising change. Even before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24 last year, Ukraine had long been requesting offensive weapons such as tanks from the West.

Ukraine’s partners, however, especially the US and Germany, chose to take an extremely cautious stance, not wanting to provoke Russia more than necessary and end up further escalating tensions.

But the West’s attitude began to change rapidly after the Bucha massacre came to light in April last year. Russian forces indiscriminately killed innocent Ukrainian civilians and damaged civilian infrastructure in the city of Bucha, located on the outskirts of Kyiv.

“Peace will come only when Crimea is reclaimed”

The Hankyoreh spoke to a military official who has been observing these changes in Kyiv since the beginning of the war.

“After the Bucha massacre became known around the world, it was no longer possible to overlook Russian atrocities and it became impossible to deny support to Ukraine. Military and political support from the West began and the atmosphere has changed,” the official explained.

In other words, Russia is now aiming its guns at civilians, not just soldiers, making it no longer an option to simply sit by and watch.

Even only one year ago, at the beginning of the war, the atmosphere was very different.

“[Early in the war], it looked like the West was ready to hand us over to Russia. They didn’t know we would survive. [They] also withdrew their embassy [staff] starting in the fall of 2021 without saying a word,” the official said. “This was tantamount to an implicit consent to Russia's invasion.”

However, besides the Russian military's brutal attacks on civilians, the unbreakable will of Ukrainian people to fight to the death seems to also have played a part in the West’s change in attitude.

“At Christmas in 2021, a relative told me that we wouldn’t survive. However, they added, 'If we stand our ground and remain in this country and put up a fight, stand together, and show our will to resist, they will eventually return, and more than enough support will come.’ And now that is what is happening,” the official said.

In fact, on Jan. 18 the New York Times cited an anonymous US government official who said the Biden administration, which had been reluctant to provide Ukraine with offensive weapons, had recently changed its attitude.

If Ukrainian soldiers can show that they can militarily attack Russian-occupied Crimea, then the logic is that they will be in a better position in future diplomatic talks.

The Hankyoreh asked this official if it is realistically possible for Ukraine to reclaim Crimea.

“If we leave Crimea as it is, Russia will reinvade Ukraine again in two years, but if we take back Crimea and let Russia pay for this war, we could be at peace for the next 20 to 30 years,” the official said.

This is also the reason why Ukraine is opposed to a ceasefire.

According to this military official, a ceasefire model is, in many ways, a fantasy.

“If we want to survive, we have to give up the fantasy of finding peace through a ceasefire,” the official said.

“There have already been many casualties such as those on the Donbas front, but we understand that if we hand over even part of our territory, we will suffer even more damage down the road,” the official continued.

So why does Russia keep attacking Ukraine, which became independent back in 1991?

“Because for Russia, Ukraine is the only economic model,” the official says.

“Russia needs the Baltic and Black seas as trade routes. The territory in between this area, namely Ukraine, is one of the central sources for securing such resources. For centuries, Russia's economic model was designed around controlling these territories,” the official explained. “They have no other alternative. That’s also the reason they say that Russia will come back eventually.”

In other words, for Russia’s gain, Ukraine becomes something akin to a goal that has to be swallowed up. “Russia wants to have control of this territory even at the cost of sacrificing all the people of Ukraine,” the official said.

As such, this official said they do not rule out the possibility of a nuclear attack by Russia.

“The myth that Ukrainians would welcome Russia has been shattered. We fight in order to live. This is the essence of war,” the official says.

Both Russia and Ukraine are putting forth terms for negotiations that are difficult for the other side to agree to. The military official called the possibility of negotiations with Russia “impossible.”

“If you clearly know that the other party is lying and cheating, how can you sit across from them?” the official asked, adding that “there is no answer other than Russia's defeat.”

The Hankyoreh then asked whether it would be better if there was some sort of mediator. The official, however, expressed strong distrust of the German and French governments, citing his experiences of meeting and discussing Ukraine-Russia relations with them on several occasions.

Skepticism about NATO and the need to build up independent military power

The will of NATO to support Ukraine is very strong. Many wonder if Ukraine will be able to join NATO at some point in the future. The military official, however, was skeptical about such a prospect.

“I don’t think that NATO will accept Ukraine, which has Russia as its eternal enemy. This is because if you accept us, you have to fight for us too,” the official explained. Given this reality, the official said Ukraine should instead invest in stronger armament for the sake of its own security.

“The military alliance called NATO is facing a major crisis,” the official said.

Military alliances only function well when there is a common threat, but this is not the case for NATO members. The official explained that for countries like Hungary and Turkey, Russia is not seen as a threat at all and that this is also the case for some western European countries.

By Noh Ji-won, Berlin correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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