Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maljar now believes that negotiations with the Kremlin are futile. Your country is in urgent need of arms supplies. This is a tool that could prevent Putin from invading.
Ms. Maljar, reports of Russian troops being deployed to Belarus have heightened concerns. Moscow now has the opportunity to attack from the north as well. How do you assess the situation?
Today Ukraine is actually the shield of Europe, we are defending the border of the European Union against Russia. The military exercises carried out by Russia on Belarusian territory in recent years have resulted in Russian military equipment not being withdrawn from the country afterwards. This means that they should be used for something. We recognize this danger and are preparing for all challenges. We are stepping up guards on the northern border and have intensified our aerial surveillance. But there is also a possibility that Russia will use the tightening in one section of the border to deceive and then launch an attack from another direction.
Are the Russian armed forces ready for an invasion?
It would be premature to say that an invading army would be ready to attack. However, the troops now concentrated along our borders offer the possibility of bringing about an escalation in a short time.
In military circles there was talk of late January or early February as a possible time for an invasion. Is that your opinion too?
In the autumn, our intelligence services, as well as those of our western partners, gave assessments that an escalation was most likely in the wintertime. This public warning was very important because exposing such plans helps stop the aggressor. We are very grateful to the media for attracting the necessary attention.
Does that mean you don’t expect any more attacks in this window?
It would be wrong to give an exact prognosis. Much depends on the course of the talks between the NATO countries and Russia. Certain political events may affect the scenarios. The possibility of a push into Ukraine’s interior is a tool of blackmail that Russia is using in these talks.
Their military intelligence says there are 127,000 Russian military personnel along Ukraine’s borders. Is that your current assessment?
Yes, that includes around 106,000 ground troops, as well as troops from the Air Force and Navy.
How are recent Western arms shipments helping the Ukrainian armed forces to really increase their combat effectiveness?
For eight years we have been looking for a way to stop Putin and liberate our territories. The first way is noble – the reference to international law. Condemning Russia’s abuses might have been right, but it didn’t work. The next instrument was negotiations. However, the last eight years have shown that you cannot negotiate with Putin. The third approach was to avoid anything that might provoke Putin. This tactic doesn’t work either. The only way left to us is to arm ourselves in such a way that an invasion would cost Putin dearly. We are very grateful to all Western countries that help us with arms deliveries. Because this is exactly the inhibiting factor that can stop Putin.
While Germany refuses such help, Ukraine receives anti-tank weapons and even Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from the small Baltic states. . .
The Baltic states have all experienced first-hand Russia’s aggressive ambitions. They too were under occupation, so they know what to expect from Russia. They are partners with whom we were in the same boat during the Soviet era. They help us not only with weapons, but also with the rehabilitation of the wounded and with other humanitarian aid.
Some of us have the notion that a war would start with a tank offensive. But modern wars are fought at a distance, with days of artillery, rocket and air force shelling conceivable. Are you prepared for it?
Anti-aircraft defense is the area where we need help. We need such defensive weapons now – or we would have needed them yesterday. Because it is a factor that can slow down Russia.
So anti-aircraft is your sore point?
We have great needs in this regard, yes.
Moscow argues that your cooperation with NATO is a threat. Do you see the possibility of a compromise to take Russia’s interests into account?
Russia’s main interest is to gain full control of Ukraine. Therefore, any negotiation of a middle ground is an illusion. If NATO renounced ties with Ukraine, for example, it would be self-deluding to think that Russia would then abandon its aggressive ambitions. That would only allow Moscow to seize control of Ukraine faster.